As Predicted, de Blasio’s E-Bike Crackdown Is Costing Delivery Workers

The 20th Precinct, where de Blasio announced his e-bike crackdown, says $500 fines are being imposed on working cyclists, who must pay up to get their bikes back from NYPD.

De Blasio told delivery workers his e-bike crackdown wouldn’t hurt “the little guy.” But that’s who’s bearing the brunt of it. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
De Blasio told delivery workers his e-bike crackdown wouldn’t hurt “the little guy.” But that’s who’s bearing the brunt of it. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

When Mayor de Blasio announced his crackdown on electric bikes last fall, he said the city would target businesses that employ people who use the bikes to make deliveries — with fines and confiscations — rather than penalize delivery workers themselves.

E-bikes are legal to own in New York, but Albany has not fixed state law that makes them illegal to ride. De Blasio said that, beginning this month, the city would concentrate on levying $100 and $200 fines on businesses that use electric bikes. But those costs are often passed on to workers, and the penalty for individual e-bike users is much higher: fines of up to $500 plus confiscation of bikes they rely on to support themselves and their families.

Contrary to de Blasio’s claim that “employers purchase the bikes,” last October Do Lee of the Biking Public Project told Streetsblog that most delivery workers are independent contractors who own their own bikes and would, therefore, be directly responsible for paying fines. According to an official from the Upper West Side’s 20th Precinct, that’s exactly what’s happening.

The West Side Rag reports that Sgt. Felicia Montgomery briefed the Community Board 7 transportation committee earlier this month on precinct e-bike enforcement:

Sergeant Montgomery explained that when the bike is confiscated, the summons is given to the e-bike operator.

“People that work for, whether it’s UberEATS [or other] delivery services, they will go down to [the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings],” Montgomery explained. “If I take the bike tonight, they go down to OATH, pay the $500 fine. They don’t ask to go to court, they don’t ask for a court date, they pay the $500 fine and we’re mandated to give them the bike back because that’s their property. So a lot of the bikes that we take from the restaurants here, within 2 or 3 hours…they’re back in the precinct to pick up their bike.”

Montgomery said the 20th Precinct had seized 51 e-bikes. At the meeting, Captain Manuel from the 24th Precinct, directly north of the 20th, told CB 7 his command had confiscated 38 bikes.

For a worker who survives on tips and needs an electric bike to make as many deliveries as possible during a 12 to 16 hour shift, having the bike confiscated can be a life-altering ordeal. “If they don’t get their bikes back, if they can’t afford to get a new bike, they’ve lost their livelihood,” Lee told Streetsblog.

De Blasio and NYPD have framed the e-bike enforcement campaign as a component of Vision Zero, but the city has produced no data showing that e-bike riders pose a significant public safety threat. Montgomery told CB 7 members there was one e-bike crash in the 20th Precinct in 2017: the operator hit a pothole and was the only person injured.

Manuel didn’t have data from the 24th Precinct, but said, “we’re not seeing a lot of collisions with e-bikes,” the Rag reported.

Meanwhile, across Central Park in the 19th Precinct — where motorists have killed no fewer than 19 people in the Vision Zero era, many of them walking with the right of way — police tweeted photos of dozens of e-bikes “confiscated from streets and sidewalks,” though owning an e-bike per se is not illegal.

“We don’t want to see the little guy, the average working person, have to deal with the fines,” de Blasio told anxious working cyclists last December. But so far that’s how his crackdown is playing out.

  • Elizabeth F

    > E-bikes are legal to own in New York… but illegal to ride

    Not true. “Motorized scooters,” as defined by the NYC Administrative Code, are illegal to use in the streets of NYC. E-bikes with throttles fit the definition of “motorized scooter” and are illegal. E-bikes that do not qualify as “motorized scooters” — because they are pedal assist and incapable of moving 100% on their own power — are not illegal.

    Existing e-bikes with throttles can be converted to pure pedal assist by disabling or removing the throttle.

    > but Albany has not fixed state law that makes them illegal to ride.

    There is ZERO political will to legalize e-bikes with throttles. Pedal assist e-bikes are already legal in NYC, and Albany is working on making them legal state-wide. E-bikes with throttles will never be legal anywhere in New York State; so we might as well get used to it and adapt.

    > “We don’t want to see the little guy, the average working person, have to deal with the fines,”

    In the same meeting, reported by Streetsblog, DeBlasio also assured workers that pedal-assist e-bikes will not be targeted in this crackdown. Why is Streetsblog not also repeating that today?

    > 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.

    Also at the same meeting, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said “she would explore ways to equip workers with pedal-assist bikes.”

    So… if you’re riding an e-bike and you haven’t disabled your throttle yet, there is really no excuse not to. I disabled mine last March.

    In the meantime, it’s high time that Streetsblog start focusing on ILLEGAL e-bike seizures — cases in which the confiscated e-bike did not actually fit the definition of a “motorized scooter.” There are reports that it has happend (not surprising, NYPD is not pervect). But we have no idea to what extent this is a problem. Is NYPD successfully distinguishing between pedal-assist and throttle-based e-bikes and only confiscating those with throttles? Or are they indiscriminately impounding anything with a battery? Are any e-bike users even bothering to TRY to comply with the law and stick to pedal-assist bikes? I have no idea. But this is where we need answers to push the conversation forward.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Not true. “Motorized scooters,” as defined by the NYC Administrative Code, are illegal to use in the streets of NYC.

    Exactly as the quote said, illegal to use but not illegal to own.

    So are the 53 foot trucks driving on every Avenue and many streets in the city, which actually kill regularly.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Let’s say that e-bikes capable of traveling without pedaling are really scooters, and a license is required to operate them. Then the issue is the unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. I get that.

    There is, however, rampant unlicensed and uninsured operation of much larger and more dangerous motor vehicles in this city, and no one does a damn thing about it.

    In particular, the state legislature could require new license plates only available for those licensed and insured in NYC, and NYC could limit overnight parking to those licensed and insured in the area. But the legislature won’t do it, because they are worried about the “right to drive.”

    But with so much insurance fraud in NYC, there is no way that low, moderate, and even middle income families could afford to have their children on their insurance before age 21, or even 25. So they are all scofflaws.

    And yet the crackdown is on E-bikes.

  • Elizabeth F

    > Exactly as the quote said, illegal to use but not illegal to own

    The quote said *e-bikes* are illegal to use. In reality, it is “motorized scooters” that are illegal to use. Some e-bikes fit the definition of “motorized scooter,” some do not.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Riding an e-bike in NYC is the equivalent of driving 5-7 miles per hour over the speed limit in a larger motor vehicle on a limited access highway.

    Have you ever done that? If you don’t you’ll have people swerving all over the road, blowing by you and giving you the finger. If you do go 5-7 miles over the speed limit, they’ll still blow by you, but without giving you the finger.

    Don’t send the police out to enforce things that aren’t absolutely necessary. Officers aren’t popular here, but this isn’t their idea. They re doing what they are told.

  • Elizabeth F

    Larry… you are right about the relative risks involved. Human society is notoriously bad at rational risk assessment. Witness our preference for coal power vs. nuclear. Or people who are afraid to fly, so they drive instead. In this case, New Yorkers see the risk of being killed by an e-bike as much more serious than being run over by a truck. We both know that is irrational, but such is life.

    If you rely on an e-bike (as I do), however, the risk analysis is different. In this case, there is a HIGH risk of having your bike confiscated by NYPD. The best way to cut down on that risk — and to help save $500 if it does happen — is to disable your throttle. Unfortunately, most e-bike users in NYC do not seem to have gotten the message — resulting in needless loss of e-bike.

  • Vooch

    The Tyrant shows his true nature

  • JarekFA

    Once you become aware that 53 foot length trucks are illegal, you notice them everywhere. Same with placard abuse. I can’t see this without getting angry at the NYPD.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Any cop sharp enough to distinguish an e-bike with a throttle from one without…

    Has probably already been promoted to sergeant, and won’t be dealing with you in any event.

  • Elizabeth F

    They’ll figure it out. So far they haven’t had to, because there has not been a mass action to disable throttles.

  • across the UES and UWS, rich white people continued to demand their food and goods be delivered quickly, all while calling themselves good liberals and somehow not suffering from total cognitive dissonance breakdown.

  • Elizabeth F

    JarekFA… what if one of us moves to the UWS, gets a camera and speed gun, stands around on a corner one afternoon counting illegal trucks, and then makes a big fuss with the Mayor? Hey, it worked before!