Confronted By Delivery Workers, de Blasio Insists on E-Bike Crackdown

The mayor said fines on e-bikes are coming in January no matter what, but that workers riding pedal-assist bikes should not be targeted.

Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Mayor de Blasio at last night's town hall. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Mayor de Blasio at last night's town hall. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

Delivery workers came out to a town hall in Greenwood Heights last night to confront Mayor de Blasio about his administration’s crackdown on electric bicycles, which threatens their livelihoods. For the second time in a month, the mayor insisted that restaurant owners, not delivery workers, will bear the burden of enforcement, despite testimony from workers themselves that indicates otherwise.

Starting next month, NYPD will levy $100 and $200 fines on businesses that employ workers riding e-bikes. And police will continue to impound e-bikes, which typically belong to workers and not businesses. For those workers, the total cost of lost property and fines could upend their ability to earn a living.

A group of delivery workers based in Brooklyn and Manhattan came out to the town hall in the hopes that de Blasio will change course. De Quan Lu, who runs the Chinese Mutual Group, an organization for Fujianese delivery workers, asked the mayor about the status of the e-bike crackdown.

De Blasio said he sympathized with delivery workers afraid to lose their livelihoods but won’t adjust his plans. “I know a lot of hard working people, such as are represented here, have the electronic bicycles, have been using them as part of their work, and I do appreciate that it’s been important to their livelihood,” de Blasio said. “Everyone knows how congested our streets and our sidewalks are, and there’s been a number of incidents, unfortunately, that have made people feel very unsafe when the electric bikes are being used.”

De Blasio did not cite any specific incidents. The city has yet to substantiate the assertion that electric bikes pose a genuine public safety hazard, failing to provide any data.

The mayor also reiterated that business owners will receive citations, and that NYPD won’t levy fines on workers.

“We don’t want to see the little guy, the average working person, have to deal with the fines,” he said. “We do want to see the businesses stop using these electric bikes. They can still use cars, they can still use regular bicycles. There’s still ways to make deliveries and to keep people in their employment, but the electric bikes are not legal and are not safe.”

But that is not the reality facing delivery workers, most of whom are employed as independent contractors. NYPD said in October that independent contractors would have to pay fines themselves.

Later in the evening, Xiaodeng Chen, a Brooklyn College student and former delivery worker, asked for clarification about pedal-assist electric bikes, which he said NYPD has ticketed despite the mayor’s past assurances that they were permitted. The mayor said pedal-assist bikes should not be ticketed, and that he will make sure NYPD precincts understand that.

Sunset Park resident Clemente Martinez, 44, who attended last night’s town hall, uses an e-bike to deliver food in Williamsburg. Speaking through a translator, Martinez told Streetsblog he works 12-hour shifts, often traveling three miles to make a delivery. He has not had a single collision in 12 years delivering, and now worries he won’t be able to support his four children without access to an e-bike.

“Time goes forward, but we’re going backwards,” he said. “I won’t be able to make enough money to support my family. This is a problem, not just for me, but for other workers like myself.”

Martinez hopes to switch to a pedal-assist bike. Otherwise, he said, he’ll switch to an un-assisted bike and ask his employer to send him on shorter runs.

“I don’t think people have stopped working altogether, but everybody has been brainstorming about what exactly they’re going to do in January, whether that means switching over to regular bicycles or getting a new job entirely,” he said. “These bikes allow me to earn a better living, while making more wages, while not getting physically tired.”

Local Council Member Carlos Menchaca, who chairs the immigration committee, promised to hold the mayor to his word that businesses, not workers, would be penalized. He said workers’ experience with enforcement should shape any state-level discussions about e-bike legalization.

“Right now we’re talking about e-bikes, but that enforcement has had negative impacts to our immigrant communities,” Menchaca said. “That is something we are seeing, that we want to understand more, so we can actually shape the state-level changes.”

“We’re going to monitor that enforcement,” he added. “I want to make sure we go back to the workers to make sure [the mayor’s] promises are kept.”

After the town hall, Martinez, Chen, Le, and another delivery worker approached DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who said she wanted  to arrange a meeting with workers and the NYPD. She also said she would explore ways to equip workers with pedal-assist bikes.

The delivery workers are planning to rally at City Hall on Monday to protest the crackdown, in conjunction with the Asian American Federation, Transportation Alternatives, and the Biking Public Project. The protest starts at 10 a.m. on the building steps.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Workers riding pedal-assist bikes should not be targeted.”

    Makes sense in theory, a distinction between bicycles with electric assist and backdoor motorcycles, but I wonder what will happen in practice?

  • JarekFA


    They need to get their English speaking kids to ask those questions. My dad has to pay $500 to get his ebike back and now we can’t celebrate lunar new year would be more effective then “what’s next for us.”

  • r

    “They can still use cars, they can still use regular bicycles. There’s still ways to make deliveries and to keep people in their employment, but the electric bikes are not legal and are not safe.”

    The man is just talking out of his rear end. No tiny Chinese food joint or pizza place is going to suddenly switch from four or five e-bikes to four or five cars. Just ain’t gonna happen.

    And they aren’t safe? Where’s the data? Not legal does not automatically equal not safe.

    Such a disgrace that this allegedly progressive mayor is taking such an anti-labor, anti-immigrant stance.

  • JarekFA

    De Blasio said he sympathized with delivery workers afraid to lose their livelihoods but won’t adjust his plans. “I know a lot of hard working people, such as are represented here, have the electronic bicycles, have been using them as part of their work, and I do appreciate that it’s been important to their livelihood,” de Blasio said. “Everyone knows how congested our streets and our sidewalks are, and there’s been a number of incidents, unfortunately, that have made people feel very unsafe when the electric bikes are being used.”

    Fuck this guy. Honestly. What a total piece of shit. Blames e-bikes for congestion whereas actual world class cities such as London and Paris are promoting e-bikes as congestion solutions. What a fucking joke. And this policy is borne on the back of hard working immigrants. Just ridiculous during the time of Trump that this so called progressive is persecuting immigrant workers.

  • I have one of those big Dutch bikes with a rear wheel lock where the keys hang out and the bike doesn’t go unless they’re engaged. Twice in the last two years, I’ve been stopped by cops who wanted to know if I was riding an illegal e-bike. They insisted that the keys and the big boxy thing behind my saddle had to have been an e-bike battery/motor. Thankfully, I was able to explain and demonstrate to them that it was just a lock.

    The cops weren’t hostile, but had I been an immigrant or not been able to speak perfect English, it might have been a different story. Would the police have confiscated my bike and told me to take it up with the precinct? Probably. The mayor is absolutely kidding himself if he thinks cops will use their discretion and not take pedal-assist bikes away from delivery people. There will be be a ton of people who will wind up having to shell out big bucks to get their perfectly legal bicycles back.

    There is really no way to get through this man’s stubborn obtuseness. I just don’t get it.

  • AnoNYC

    That is such a stupid exception.

    How is a pedal assist bike safer than one with a throttle? A throttle offers finer speed adjustments and is less likely to be accidentally triggered than pedal assist.

  • AnoNYC

    On the positive side, eBikes are flourishing in NYC. I bet there would be even more riders without this stupid ban, but I have seen a very steady increase over the years.

    The cheaper and more clandestine they become, the harder it’s going to be to stop their proliferation.

  • qrt145

    BdB feels bad that he failed to get rid of horses on his first term, so the goal of his second term is to get rid of ebikes. Maybe this time will be easier because delivery workers have less lobbying power than carriage drivers.

  • This speaks to the idiocy and shortsightedness of the mayor’s crackdown. They police will confiscate a bunch of bikes for a month or two here and there, make a big show of it on their Twitter feeds, and then by the end of the year there will no actual drop in the number of e-bikes on the road.

  • AnoNYC


    It’s the same with the motorcyclists. They showcased a bunch of unclaimed bikes getting destroyed (crushed) and launched all these motorcycle specific checkpoints yet there has been no decline in riders without plates/registration/insurance/helmets/license.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I see big trucks with 53′ trailers, which are illegal throughout NYC, every single day. On truck routes (still not legal), off truck routes, wherever. A lot of the cabs also don’t have the required crossover mirrors on the front.

    These have killed a lot of people and go almost completely unenforced, but Bill de Blasio insists “the law is the law” on this e-bike crackdown? It’s total bullshit and antithetical to what Vision Zero is supposed to be.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I don’t know what it’s like to use either of these things, but most states regulate these based on capabilities, regardless of whether they’re throttle control or assist-only. 20mph seems to make sense as a good maximum for ones that are considered bicycles. This is already the law in a lot of states.

  • AMH

    Exactly, what a dunce. I see the 53-footers everywhere now that I’m looking. Why won’t he crack down on real “dangerous and illegal” vehicles?

  • AMH

    I can only hope that this debacle will result in a constructive discussion and legalization over the mayor’s futile protests.

  • AMH

    Exactly, he really thinks that using cars is the answer to congestion? Honestly this guy gets dumber every time he opens his mouth. He’s really giving Cuomo serious competition in that department.

  • AMH

    Regulating speed (25mph) and location (i.e. not on sidewalks) makes far more sense than enforcing a technicality that the police will never understand.

  • It probably will… for the next mayor.

  • Agreed 1000%!!
    Here in my neck of the woods, the bodegas and delis deliver food and groceries via e-bike to many customers (my local bodega alone has heavy demand for such). Never seen the e-bike in any kind of incident.

    Meanwhile, the Rite-Aid down the block receives its deliveries via 53-foot trailer – on the *Grand Concourse* no less (where trucks are supposedly banned but you’ll find trucks of all stripes there anyway); because there’s no loading zone, the truck has to double-park, blocking both the bike lane and part of the travel lane.

    Is it too early to call NYC a poser when it comes to fighting congestion, pollution, and climate change – especially in communities of color? It’s looking pretty damn hopeless…

  • The mayor and governor, together, are ensuring that NYC is on the fast lane to obsolescence and ridicule compared to real 21st-century cities…

  • Elizabeth F

    I ride a delivery-type e-bike. I converted it to pedal assist by duct taping my throttle. Fully removing the throttle would also work. If the Mayor can assure delivery workers that existing e-bikes modified to be pedal assist will not be targeted, then we will likely see swift mass conversion to pedal-assist by disabling throttles.

  • Elizabeth F

    No matter what you think of the technology, e-bikes with throttles qualify as “motor scooters” in NYC, and are clearly illegal. Pedal assist e-bikes are not explicitly mentioned in the law and therefore not illegal. A “crackdown” that impounds pedal assist e-bikes en masse would see legal push-back, as have past “crackdowns” on bike stores that sold pedal assist bikes (fines against them were dropped). The Mayor knows this.

    There is a multi-pronged effort to clarify the legal status of pedal assist e-bikes in New York State, which are used by a wide variety of people for a wide variety of purposes. Increasingly, all parties involved are expecting it to pass this year. Therefore, avoiding targeting of class 1 e-bikes in expectation of clarified legal status also makes a lot of sense.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Strongly disagreed on the finesse of throttle versus pedal assist. The proportional assist is much more finely controlled. To command full power from a proportional assist bike, you have to put in your maximum physical effort. To do it on a throttle bike requires you only turn the throttle to the stop, or press a button. Completely different.

  • Simon Phearson

    How do you know if they’re 53 feet? Are those the eighteen-wheelers, or do you identify them some other way?

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Some of them say 53′ on the front corners of the trailer. Once you know them its easy to tell because the next common size down is 40′, which is noticably shorter.

    The illegal 53 footers are amazingly ubiquitous. I suspect they are MORE common in the city than the legal ones.

  • Vooch

    it very easy to tell which are the illegal ones when they are blocking a intersection standing still.

    stand on first of second avenue in the 80‘s ; it’s a parade of illegal trucks all day

  • AnoNYC

    To trigger movement on a pedal assist bike, all you have to do is move the pedals slightly and the bike will lurch you forward. This is especially apparent with models that come with the now standard 12 magnets for the sensor at the crank (older/cheaper models had like 8).

    An eBike with a throttle will not power unless you manipulate the throttle. The throttle should be installed in a way that you must rotate it towards you to prevent accidental activation. Alternatively some ebikes and ATVs use thumb throttles, which are similar in control.

    I have ridden a couple eBikes, owned 2 (still have one) and own a motorcycle. I find the throttle a much more controllable than activation through the pedals. Especially if I need to suddenly stop after first accelerating.

  • AnoNYC

    The vast majority of eBikes sold max out at 20 MPH due to international standards. 20-25 MPH seems like a good threshold for usage on city streets. Bicyclists themselves need to use the bike lane or any street at an appropriate speed. I know I can exceed 20 MPH on my bicycle, that doesn’t mean I always do. If it’s crowded I slow down. A throttle gives you that finer speed adjustment too.

    Custom kits and higher end models of course do not have to abide by these regulations. I was riding my motorcycle alongside a custom build downhill full suspension mountain bike on 1st Av and he was leaving me in the dust as he split through the traffic much more quickly than I could due to being even more narrow (and I ride a naked bike). That thing must be able to do at least 40 MPH but they are ultra rare and expensive. Looked like one of those B-52 stealth bomber ebikes. Would love to own one but costs thousands.

  • AnoNYC

    They don’t care to. They just get told to crack down on ebikes and do so to fulfill the obligation. Most cops don’t find ebikes to be a threat, just an annoyance; but the mayoral administration is likely going after them due to connected complainers.

  • AnoNYC

    This whole agenda has little to do with throttles either. It has to do with connected constituents who are complaining about the relatively new road users they incorrectly identify as unnecessary and dangerous.

    A delivery rider on an ebike with or without a throttle is still going to annoy these people and the harassment will continue.

  • qrt145

    “those B-52 stealth bomber ebikes”

    Maybe you are thinking of the B-2? The B-52 is a huge, non-stealthy bomber from the 1950s… 🙂

  • AnoNYC
  • seansd

    How many e-bikes they talking about? If even half change to cars, what congestion you looking at? Never mind a car replacement will be old, beat up, high polluting, and likely poorly maintained due to lack of money.

  • We should be honest and acknowledge that delivery workers bring the scrutiny on themselves by virtue of their riding style. If they didn’t blow red lights, ride the wrong way, and ride on sidewalks, then no one would ever have complained, and there would be no crackdown on e-bikes.

    The solution therefore is for delivery workers to stop at red lights, to ride in the correct direction, and to stay off the sidewalk. Customers would still get their food; and no restaurant would be at a disadvantage relative to its competitors.

    More important, the complaints would go away, as would the threat of impoundment; so workers’ livelihoods would not be threatened.

  • Elizabeth F

    You are right, but that’s not where the politics are. There is a widespread belief that throttle e-bikes are faster than pedal assist. The reality is that bikes with 2 forms of power accelerate faster than those with just 1. In any case, the current laws were written before e-bikes even existed; and throttles happen to fall afoul of those laws, whereas pedal assist do not. Such is the politics, and disabling a throttle makes little difference in the end, once you get used to it.

  • AMH

    Easy to say, not so easy to bring about — it requires a sea change in the “wealthy white customer comes first” business/society model.

  • Earl D.

    It’s total bullshit and antithetical to what Vision Zero is supposed to be.

    Exactly. Nothing could be easier than to reach your Vision Zero goals by keeping pedestrians cowering in their apartments and bike ownership so onerous that you break the peoples will to resist. Does de Blasio really feel that’s an acceptable approach to tackling NYC’s transportation problems? That that’s what people signed up for when they elected him or that they won’t be able to see through such a dishonest approach to hitting the numbers? Such a disappointment.

  • Tom West

    It is a good thing that Bill De Blasio and Henry Ford did not grow up in the same generation. The mayor would have outlawed the model T.