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Council Reps to de Blasio: Stop the E-Bike Crackdown and Talk to Workers About New Rules

Council members Carlos Menchaca and Margaret Chin (background right) with delivery worker advocates at City Hall yesterday. Photo: Brad Aaron

City Council members yesterday called on Mayor de Blasio to cease his crackdown on delivery workers while the city clarifies its rules on electric bikes.

On orders from the mayor, NYPD is targeting working cyclists who are on the job. Acting on a flaw in state law that makes e-bikes legal to own but illegal to ride, cops are issuing hefty fines to delivery workers and confiscating their bikes, threatening their ability to make a living.

The city has no data showing that e-bike riders pose a serious public safety threat. Rather, de Blasio unleashed the police on delivery workers based on a complaint he fielded from a WNYC listener.

Facing blowback from the crackdown, in April City Hall announced a DOT rule change that would legalize pedal-assist bikes, which engage the bike's electric motor while the rider pedals.

But according to council members and advocates who rallied outside City Hall Monday afternoon, most delivery cyclists use "combination bikes," which can be operated by pedal-assist or by using the throttle alone, though the top speed for either method of acceleration is the same. Even with the DOT rule change as proposed, advocates said, the majority of delivery workers would still be subject to fines and bike seizures.

The mayor's crackdown "goes against everything our city represents as a haven for immigrants," said Lower Manhattan council rep Margaret Chin. Chin said delivery cyclists are afraid to go to work, fearing their bikes will be taken or they will be arrested. "Hard working immigrants should not have to work every day in fear just for doing their jobs," she said.

The city must come up with a fair solution to the e-bike issue, Chin said, because Albany can't be counted on to clear up the law.

Chin was joined by fellow Council Member Carlos Menchaca and representatives from Transportation Alternatives, the Asian American Federation, Make the Road New York, and the Biking Public Project.

According to everyone I spoke to and heard from yesterday, City Hall did not consult delivery workers when formulating the proposed rule change.

The Biking Public Project's Helen Ho outlined five steps council members and advocates want City Hall to take: issue a moratorium on e-bike enforcement; establish regulations to allow workers to convert throttle e-bikes to pedal-assist bikes; establish a financial aid program to help with conversions; educate the public, workers, and police on e-bike regulations; and begin recording and publishing data on e-bike crashes, which the city currently does not track.

"A moratorium allows us to push the pause button and get this right," said Menchaca, who chairs the council's immigration committee.

Clemente Martinez, who has done delivery work for 14 years, said workers need e-bikes because they survive on tips -- the more deliveries completed per shift, the more money they make. Also, he noted, customers expect fast service.

"I've been criminalized for using my electric bicycle," Martinez said through an interpreter. "I've been given fees and fines just for doing my job. The city needs to figure out a way for us to use the bicycles we've already invested in."

Many workers who use throttle e-bikes are middle-aged or older. To rack up enough deliveries to earn an average wage of $10 an hour, Ho said, older delivery cyclists need e-bikes, and can't afford to have them confiscated.

Persephone Tan of the Asian American Federation said City Hall's rule change announcement left workers unsure of what bikes would be allowed. Tan criticized de Blasio for failing to engage delivery cyclists. "We need the mayor to hear from the workers directly," she said.

DOT is scheduled to hold a hearing on the rule change on May 29. Delivery workers will rally at City Hall on May 14.

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