A day before PATH is set to ban electric bikes from its trains, NJ Transit has welcomed them, along with previously banned hover boards, scooters and skateboards that have become as much as part of commuting as traditional buses and trains.
NJ Transit added e-bikes to its bicycle policy Wednesday, allowing them on select trains and buses with racks or storage compartments and reverses a 2016 ban on hover boards and other battery-powered devices.
Similar to other trains systems, NJ Transit banned hover boards after reports about lithium batteries exploding or catching fire. Another reason for the ban was some of the lithium ion batteries that were being manufactured and sold without the required regulatory testing, officials said.
But the world and technology has changed in the past five years.
Commuters are using a variety of battery-powered scooters, skateboards and one-wheel devices to cover the distance between the beginning and end of their trips to and from train and bus stations.
And changes have been made to lithium battery technology to avoid a chemical reaction that has been blamed for battery fires, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
“By its very nature transportation never stops moving and evolving,” said Brian Lapp, NJ Transit Chief Safety Officer, in a statement. “This policy change demonstrates NJ Transit continued dedication to improving the customer experience by staying at the forefront of new and growing trends with safe and environmentally friendly mobility options, and finding ways to safely incorporate them into our system.”
NJ Transit’s announcement has prompted bike advocates to pressure PATH for an explanation of its policy – why is one transit agency backing off a ban while another is on the cusp of prohibiting battery powered transit?
“The proposed ban of e-bikes on PATH trains produces another barrier to creating equitable mobility in our state,” said Debra Kagan, New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition executive director. “This ban places an unnecessary burden on those who must rely on public and non-motorized modes of transportation for their livelihood. PATH should change course and follow the lead of NJ Transit.”
PATH officials said in a Tweet that the July 1 e-bike ban aligns with a 2018 rule change that banned electric scooters and skateboards because of the lithium batteries powering them. E-bikes are also larger and PATH “must maximize our onboard train space.” An email with additional questions sent to PATH was not answered.
While weekend PATH ridership has rebounded more than weekday use, Port Authority officials said PATH ridership has been slow to return and remains below pre-pandemic 2019 levels. Officials reported PATH’s average weekly ridership was down by 62% compared to the pre-COVID June 2019 weekly average during the third week in June.
The MTA allows e-bikes on the system, with purchase of a one-time $5 permit, but banned hover boards and e-scooters in 2016. NJ Transit does not charge or require permits to bring bikes or other personal vehicles on trains, buses or light rail.
E-bikes are now covered by the same policy that covers all bikes on NJ Transit trains, buses and light rail. That means e-bikes are allowed on trains designated on schedules to accommodate bikes, on board buses with bike racks on the front or cruiser buses with storage compartments, and on light rail trains.
NJ Transit’s decision was praised by Kagan for giving more people access to public transit by allowing personal transit devices.
“NJ Transit’s revised policy is a long-awaited and welcome step towards equitable mobility (and) mobility for all,” she said. “These mobility modes expand access to transit to those outside of walking distance and those who cannot pedal a regular bike; they can now rely on safe, sustainable ways to reach public transportation.”
“We encourage NJ Transit to continue to develop their policies and infrastructure to further enable all people to reach transit, by making streets around stations and bus stops safer for people walking and pedaling, and safe places to park and store these mobility types at transit centers,” Kagan said.
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Larry Higgs may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.