De Blasio’s E-Bike Confiscations May Violate City Law

The 19th Precinct shows off the loot.
The 19th Precinct shows off the loot.

Since Mayor de Blasio’s crackdown on working cyclists took effect, NYPD has boasted about confiscating delivery workers’ electric bikes. In their zeal to rid NYC of space-efficient, low-emissions vehicles, police appear to be snatching up bikes whether or not workers are using them — a practice that is arguably illegal.

Under an outmoded state law, e-bikes are illegal to ride, but legal to own. That’s why a confiscated bike must be returned when its owner pays a ticket.

City administrative code says an e-bike may be impounded if it “has been used or is being used.” At least twice in January, the 19th Precinct tweeted about sweeps targeting bikes that were apparently parked on Upper East Side sidewalks.

“The city law that makes most e-bikes illegal to operate in NYC only allows for them to be impounded if they have been used illegally,” says Transportation Alternatives Legislative and Legal Director Marco Conner. “That is, a police officer must have witnessed someone riding the e-bike or have other credible evidence that it has been operated.”

Ultimately it’s up to judges to interpret how the statute is being applied, said attorney Steve Vaccaro. “Straddling the e-bike, even without engine engaged, probably passes for ‘operation,’” he said. “I don’t think a judge would insist that the illegal feature actually be in operation in front of the cop for the seizure to take place.”

Whether NYPD is applying the law correctly or not, workers are unlikely to contest a ticket. “If I take the bike tonight, they go down to OATH, pay the $500 fine,” an official from the Upper West Side’s 20th Precinct told Community Board 7 last month. “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 de Blasio and NYPD may continue to victimize working cyclists without much concern for the legality of these seizures — for the time being. A source tells Streetsblog that organizers are exploring the possibility of challenging the city’s e-bike seizures in court.

  • Vooch

    Black Costumed paramilitaries like wolves preying on innocent victims

  • JR

    Nothing like picking on poor people that have little recourse in the justice system. De Blasio, a pseudoprogressive…

  • Elizabeth F

    This article correctly states that some, not all, e-bikes are illegal in NYC, due to a ban on “motorized scooters” dating back to 2004. Pedal assist e-bikes are not illegal under the “motorized scooter” law. I agree that seizing e-bikes not in use is almost certainly not legal. And I’m glad to see that advocates are planning to challenge these illegal seizures in court.

    HOWEVER… everyone involved with e-bikes would have a MUCH better case in court if only e-bike users would convert their class 2 e-bikes to pedal-assist by disabling the throttle. Why are advocates not working on that? I disabled my throttle last March; first with duct tape; and now more permanently with 5-minute epoxy. It’s not that hard.

  • Joe R.

    It’s a shame we can’t also convince our legislators that having a throttle or not is splitting hairs. The bikes goes no faster with a throttle than without. It’s a nonsensical distinction which wouldn’t exist in any sane society.

    Most of the issues with e-bikes have to do with how they’re operated. There already exist laws to deal with that.

  • Elizabeth F

    It would seem logical that throttles don’t make a difference. But I’m not sure anymore. Europe made it clear they didn’t want throttles. And in China, throttles MIGHT be involved in more distracted driving crashes. I think the issue deserves serious study.

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps it’s possible pedaling keeps you more alert because you’re more active than if you’re just working a throttle? I agree the issue deserves serious study.

  • Menachem Goldshteyn

    Someone should file a class action suit. It smells of discrimination.

  • Zack

    Make a class teach people how to operate an ebike and traffic rules,
    Give them a license and then if they do wrong fine them but not like this you can’t just say it’s illegal to ride them then take them away and fine people . Ebikes would help New Yorkers with injuries to work with or going to work. Trains are full and street traffic is crazy in NYC. How come you get your NYC drivers license very easy just a test in multi languages no driving classes and you give permition to people to operate a vehicle they maybe never driven before without going to classes. In Germany it takes you up to 6 month’s to get a driver’s license.
    And than he makes a big deal about Ebikes that’s a joke , that smells like someone wants to make money before legalizing them . Sad

  • tee

    I agree with you. Once the city finds a way to make money off the backs of hard working people they will say it’s ok. Fist they will allow the NYPD to use the E-bikes
    and then tax us somehow . Yes they will make it legal so the city can make money.
    Shame on NY politicians that don’t back up the working class.

  • MANINTHEHILLS

    The test should be in ENGLISH!

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