Delivery Workers Confront de Blasio Over E-Bike Crackdown

The mayor said he's willing to explore legalization of e-bikes in Albany but insisted that his crackdown will happen in January.

Mayor de Blasio listens as Jinhua Li asks about the city's upcoming crackdown on electric bicycles. ViaNYC Mayor's Office/YouTube
Mayor de Blasio listens as Jinhua Li asks about the city's upcoming crackdown on electric bicycles. ViaNYC Mayor's Office/YouTube

Chinese delivery workers confronted Mayor de Blasio at a town hall in Flushing last night, asking him to rethink the city’s upcoming crackdown on e-bikes and work to improve conditions for people who use them to earn a living. The mayor said the e-bike enforcement plan is non-negotiable, but that the city may be open to legalizing them in a way that “protects public safety.”

Speaking on behalf of 20 Flushing residents who deliver food in Manhattan, Jinhua Li asked through a translator if the city could protect e-bike workers instead of policing them. The workers depend on the vehicles to get through long shifts, and many are immigrants who will be more vulnerable to deportation after e-bike citations.

“There is the chance to change the state law in Albany next year, if we can find a way to do it that protects public safety, and we will certainly see if there is some way to do that,” de Blasio said. “But right now it’s become increasingly clear around the city that the e-bikes have created a safety problem for pedestrians. We made a very clear decision that we’re not going to allow their use.”

Starting in January, NYPD will levy $100 and $200 fines on businesses that employ workers who ride e-bikes. The city claims that targeting businesses would take the burden off workers.

But most delivery workers are independent contractors, who will have to pay the fines themselves. And NYPD will continue to impound e-bikes, which typically belong to the workers and not businesses. The total cost of lost property and fines could put workers out hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Delivery workers’ incomes depend on the number of deliveries they can make in a shift, which typically lasts between 12 and 16 hours. Especially for older workers, it’s tough to do the job on two wheels without some kind of assist.

Last night, the mayor showed little sympathy for the demands of the job. “You can use a car, you can use a regular bicycle, you can go on foot,” he told Li. “There’s all sorts of ways to deliver food, but we’re not going to allow e-bikes.”

Li is 67 years old. The workers who came with him were mostly in their fifties and sixties. For years, they’ve faced the threat of tickets, confiscated property, or even jail time for riding e-bikes. They did not seem inclined to give up their livelihoods.

Chinese delivery workers confronting Council Member Peter Koo after last night's town hall. Photo: David Meyer
Chinese delivery workers confronting Council Member Peter Koo after last night’s town hall. Photo: David Meyer

“Our bodies are going to have a lot of pressure,” if we stop riding e-bikes, said Zheng Bao Ca. Without the bikes, he said, deliveries will be slower. That will require businesses to hire more delivery workers, which will in turn lead to lower wages and higher delivery costs.

“We’re facing tough competition now because a lot of people order, and we have to deliver food from downtown, from City Hall, all the way to Midtown,” said Fai Lam.

With the looming crackdown, said Li, “millions of people are going to have trouble eating lunch.”

Meanwhile, de Blasio’s assertion that e-bikes pose a “clear” danger to pedestrians is based on constituent complaints, not injury data. The city has yet to provide any evidence to substantiating the idea that e-bikes are a genuine risk.

Near the end of the town hall the Biking Public Project’s Do Lee asked that the mayor meet with delivery workers. The mayor promised a meeting with NYPD and DOT, but was adamant about his earlier points. “We have a policy, this is state law,” he said. “It will not be resolved unless there’s a state law change. Otherwise, enforcement begins in January.”

“I still believe Mr. de Blasio is a kind person,” said De Quan Lu, who runs the Chinese Mutual Group, an organization for Fujianese delivery workers. “I hope he can work with us and listen.”

  • Vooch

    a danger is something that ACTUALLY harms and kills meaning drivers

    e-bikes is a irritating nuisance that I dislike as much as anyone, but not a danger, because e bikes do not kill

  • BortLicensePlatez

    Are you also tired of defending the powerful against the vulnerable? I know you want your parking spot more than any human life in this planet, but other people use city streets who don’t assume its theirs and theirs alone. While you drive a 2 ton weapon, there are people out there delivering food in the freezing rain…

  • Uchendu Nwachuku

    If that’s what you think I’m doing, you either have reading comprehension problems, or you have a massive class-warfare agenda to advance.

  • BortLicensePlatez

    I do have a massive class-warfare agenda to advance: I despise the rich and they should be taxed at 95% to subsidize the poor and the middle class. Whats wrong with class war?

  • Joseph S

    What makes bikes dangerous? Their kinetic energy. “e-bikes” are A) heavier B) faster which means they have more kinetic energy. They are also by definition ridden by criminals who care nothing for traffic laws. Therefore more dangerous.

  • Joseph S

    So they just maim?

  • Vooch

    good point – I do not believe they are hitting people. The data is thin here.

    It’s a awful nuisance for sure, but I‘s argue we‘d be safer if we‘d spend resources on 55‘ and longer Semis

  • qrt145

    So in other words no evidence, just speculation. Thanks for confirming.

  • Joseph S

    Do you not understand physics?

  • mariposaman

    Maybe they should go on strike for one day, see how people depend on food delivery. I often wonder if those complaining, and those politicians and police that harass the Chinese delivery riders use food delivery and still expect their food to arrive fast and hot?

  • Knut Torkelson

    Please provide the evidence showing e-bikes cause more injuries or are more likely to result in crashes. “They’re heavier” isn’t an argument. Until you provide said evidence (I’ll save you some time- it doesn’t exist), please stop spreading misinformation.

  • Knut Torkelson

    Solid data, Dr. Thanks for stopping by. Did you actually type that out with a straight face? Also your ‘data point’ is a non injury, non collusion situation. Are you trolling or really that dumb?

  • Knut Torkelson

    If you’re going to say something is dangerous, provide some evidence. Since you don’t have any, your next best bet is to stop spreading your ignorance.

  • Knut Torkelson

    That would rely on active and stringent traffic enforcement in this city. Anyone who spends any amount of time on the streets of this city knows that is far from the case. Every single day I see the NYPD ignore illegal trucks, drivers making illegal turns, dozens of cars blocking the bike lane every single day, rampant speeding, etc. You are advocating the NYPD spend EVEN LESS time enforcing these deadly violations, and more time enforcing a law against road users that have none (not a single) confirmed fatal injury to date in NYC. The policies you advocate for are certain to cause further death and destruction while trying to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

  • Joseph S

    Heavier and faster is in fact all that is needed to be known.

  • Joseph S

    The moped would be insured and driven by a licensed driver. And wouldn’t be in the bike path presumably.

  • Joseph S

    It would have been an injury situation if I hadn’t gotten out of the way. *You* shouldn’t be calling *me* dumb. It is self evident to anyone with eyes that these professional criminals (yes that is what they are) ride like maniacs wherever they want to, much more recklessly than the average cyclist. I also know that bowling balls are more dangerous that bags of feathers. Do I have data points? No. Some things don’t need data points.

  • Angel

    You lost… give it up!