Delivery Workers Say de Blasio’s Proposed E-Bike Rules Won’t Help Them

The de Blasio administration wants to clarify language permitting pedal-assist e-bikes, which most delivery workers don't use.

Delivery workers rallying outside City Hall this morning. Photo copyright Scott Heins, used with permission.
Delivery workers rallying outside City Hall this morning. Photo copyright Scott Heins, used with permission.

In case it isn’t obvious by now: Mayor de Blasio should have talked with delivery workers about electric bikes rather than declaring war on them.

The city’s proposal to permit pedal-assisted e-bikes on city streets doesn’t go far enough to protect delivery workers, according to a coalition of workers, advocacy groups, and elected officials that rallied outside City Hall today.

Later this month, DOT will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to city rules that would allow pedal-assist bikes that were “equipped at manufacture” [PDF]. Unlike throttle-powered bikes, pedal-assist bikes aren’t specifically prohibited by law. The rule change would in essence serve to clarify existing regulations.

The issue is that most delivery workers use “combination bikes,” which can be operated by throttle alone. And if DIY conversions are prohibited, as they are in the proposed rule language, workers will have to buy new bikes.

“Over many years, the city has criminalized our work, even though these bikes are necessary for us to do our work,” said Make the Road member Pedro Rojas through a translator. Rojas works more than 70 hours per week delivering food on an e-bike.

“This new policy is unfair,” said Rojas. “The city is going to permit only some electric bikes, but not the ones that we, the workers, use.”

Due to a flaw in state law, the e-bikes most delivery workers use are legal to own, but illegal to ride on public streets. Mayor de Blasio’s crackdown, which began in January after months of heightened NYPD enforcement, has already hit Rojas and fellow working cyclists with heavy fines, confiscations, and lost wages.

Without the city’s support to convert their bikes to pedal-assist, delivery workers say they’ll continue to face burdensome enforcement.

“Our bosses don’t let us do this work without e-bikes,” said Clemente Martinez, who also spoke through a translator. “The city needs to find way for us to keep our bikes, in which we’ve invested a lot of money, through the process of legalization. We’re asking the city to support us and not leave us behind.”

To do that, the Justice Delivered Coalition — comprised of Make the Road, Transportation Alternatives, Asian American Federation, and others — wants DOT to amend the proposed rule to allow workers to convert bikes to pedal-assist. The requirement that bikes be labeled as pedal-assist from the factory should be eliminated, the coalition says, and perhaps replaced by a city decal indicating a bike has been properly converted.

“We want to make sure that they can afford to convert their e-bikes,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “We want to make sure that they reach compliance, and make sure that they can continue to make a living, to support their family, without the fear of being arrested, getting all these punitive fines, and getting their bike confiscated.”

The city has yet to provide data demonstrating that e-bike riders pose a significant threat to public safety, which was the purported impetus for de Blasio’s crackdown.

Upper West Side council rep Helen Rosenthal, who stood alongside the mayor when he announced the e-bike crackdown last October, spoke at the rally, calling the coalition proposals “common sense.”

“While I appreciate [the mayor’s] moving quickly on what is an issue on some communities,” said Rosenthal, “he needed to take the time to understand the common sense impact that this would have on the delivery workers themselves.”

The DOT rule change hearing is scheduled for May 29.

  • These rules are totally missing the most popular ebikes. A ban on “throttle only” bikes might be more reasonable. And the anti-DIY stuff makes me livid.

  • qrt145

    Just out of curiosity, does any manufacturer even produce bikes with stickers which would comply with the proposed rule?

  • Jeff

    Does anyone here know enough about e-bikes to speak to this whole notion of “converting” throttle-operated e-bikes to pedal-assist e-bikes? Does this even make any sense? Is there a straight-forward way to do so? Or what?

  • It’s possible to disconnect the throttle. But kind of silly. IMO.

  • Stickers?

  • On some models, it’s as simple as disabling the throttle or switch with a piece of duct tape.

    To save delivery workers the expense of having to buy a new bike, DOT could easily come up with some sort of official, durable tape – like that silver seal one might find on the box of a new computer – and work out a program where either they go to restaurants or restaurant workers go to them to have bikes get this official tape. Keep it on and the throttle disabled, and you’re fine. Break it and you’re subject to a fine. A fifty-cent solution versus a $2000 one.

  • qrt145

    Sorry, “label” was the term used in the proposed rule: “Such bicycle shall have permanently affixed in a prominent location the manufacturer’s original label containing the maximum speed and motor wattage of the bicycle”. Do manufacturers of pedal-assist ebikes already label their bikes in such a way?

  • What stupidity, do we care it’s a bicycle, pedal assist e-bicycle or throttle assisted? The only thing we care is max. speed and max. breaking. By the way proficients non assisted cyclists are capable of going and maintaining much higher speeds than 20 mph, and while sprinting the can get over 60 mph easily.

    So this is either a fight between interest groups (money) or the city council is really bored. If they are bored they should be fired and their salaries and perks invested more wisely.

  • AnoNYC

    You can replace the controller with one that does not have connection for a throttle.

    Makes no sense to do so though.

  • AnoNYC

    This is so dumb. You could just buy a sticker and place it on a 1000w eBike that travels in excess of 30 MPH.

    Or you could buy a bike that complies and switch out the parts.

    They just need to legalize the damn bikes and the NYPD needs to crack down on riders that are riding in a way that puts others in danger.

  • AnoNYC

    People need to push back against this nonsense. Throttle eBikes should be allowed as pedal assist will be/are.

  • no they do not do that it’s absurd.

  • Eric McClure

    The obvious solution is that all deliveries should be made either by ferry or streetcar.

  • ortcutt

    The weight of the bike should also matter given that that is what matters if you’re hit by one. Pedal Assist bikes are generally the weight of a heavy bike. Let’s not kid ourselves. Most of the throttle “bikes” are just electric scooters.

    Vehicles that are functionally equivalent to gas-powered scooters (which require registration, sometimes insurance, and a driving license in NY State regardless of engine displacement) should be classified as motor vehicles and require a registration, license, etc…

    Problem is thought that most delivery drivers don’t want to or can’t obtain licence plate/insurance, driving license. So, they’ve been operating in this loophole of these electric scooters.

    Now, the City offers to let them use real e-bikes (as opposed to electric scooters) and now they are complaining that it doesn’t cover the loophole that they have been using.

  • ortcutt

    Why not sell the throttle-equipped scooter and buy an pedal-assist e-bike? You can’t seriously tell me that there is no second-hand market for electric scooters.

  • I agree with you. Kinect Energy is named by the way, and it’s equal to speed x mass in joules.

  • qrt145

    They are complaining that the proposed rule would require them to throw away thousands of perfectly good electric bikes. The bikes that most delivery workers use are not functionally equivalent to gas-powered scooters (a few of them are). They weigh about the same as a Citi Bike.

  • BrandonWC

    You can submit an official comment at the link below. the deadline to do so is May 29.,

  • Elizabeth F

    I rely on a delivery-type e-bike. Last year I disabled my throttle with duct tape. After discovering that could be defeated, I disabled more permanently with epoxy glue. Works like a charm. The folks at the Justice Delivered Coalition have known about this fix since last December.

  • Elizabeth F

    The delivery e-bikes are only practical to use in NYC, because this is the only place with infrastructure in place to service them. There is no second-hand market for 10,000 NYC delivery e-bikes outside of NYC.

    DOT can’t make the law. The law is that pedal assist e-bikes are legal, whether or not they have a sticker.

  • J

    Throttle e-bikes with no governors are too fast for regular bike lanes, so the pedal-assist regulations are good for limiting where these can go. However, these throttle e-bikes are useful for workers doing business, so they should be allowed to use regular car lanes and regulated accordingly (license required, license plate, etc.). There is lots of guidance on how to do this effectively coming out of the Netherlands.

  • Elizabeth F

    Some of us suggested that last Decmeber. The Justice Delivered Coalition decided to go ahead with a more confrontational approach that was guaranteed to get more delivery e-bikes needlessly impounded.

  • Elizabeth F

    The e-bike industry really likes the sticker thing, they promote it at every turn.

  • Plain and simple the mayor is a fucking asshole!

  • Jesse

    Not to be a pedant, but it’s 0.5 x (mass) x (speed)^2. Relevant to this discussion because increases in speed will increase the kinetic energy by a factor of the square of that increase, whereas increases in the effect of mass on kinetic energy is linear. Hence the huge difference in survival rates of car crashes with pedestrians between 30 mph and 40 mph.

  • Jemilah Magnusson

    So, you can only get deliveries if you live on the water or on a streetcar line?

  • Elizabeth F

    Go buy the GenZe 2.0. It is a fully legal electric moped, goes up to 30mph, requires licensing ,etc.

  • Elizabeth F

    Most of the e-bikes on the streets of NYC weight about 50lb. Doesn’t matter if they’re pedal assist or throttle, it’s still about 50lb. When you include the weight of the rider, the extra 20lb of the battery + motor on an e-bike doesn’t make a big difference. Or put another way… the average man on a manual bike weights about the same as the average woman on an e-bike.

  • Elizabeth F

    Or you can cut the wire to the throttle, yielding the same effect. Or you can physically disable the throttle. Disabling a throttle is not a hard problem.

  • Elizabeth F

    You can buy a compliant car and “mod” it to flout emissions laws as well. Most people don’t.

  • Elizabeth F
  • AnoNYC

    Not all bikes with throttles exceed 20 MPH, which seems to be the coming eBike max speed line in the USA.

  • AnoNYC

    Can you provide example bicycles with their weights to support your claim that most bikes with a throttle are much heavier than those without.

    Because all it takes to install a throttle is the right controller, some wire, and a twist or push button grip.

    Most delivery people in NYC utilize an electric bicycle similar to this:

  • AnoNYC

    That’s true, but these bikes are substantially more simple to modify. And for a delivery worker a throttle makes enough sense to do so, since the purpose is transportation and not exercise or leisure.

    I have had two eBikes, down to one, but would never consider one without a throttle because I use them for when the temperature is hot and humid. I am trying not to be drenched in sweat.

  • ortcutt

    Maybe it’s because I live in Queens, but most of the ones here are the scooter-type or the weird ones that say “fly ebike”. Maybe the situation is different in other boroughs.

  • ortcutt

    I’m sure many commuters would be interested in throttle ebikes in places where they are legal. Why would there be no second-hand market?

  • AnoNYC

    Those are eScooters and do weigh more than the example provided above, but they are a different type of vehicle. You sit in them, rather than ride on top. The throttle issue has nothing to do with the vehicle type though, which is the complaint here. eScooters often have pedals too, though they are almost useless.

  • Class 2 Electric Bikes (throttle) should have the same access as Class 1 (pedal assist) because they are identical in terms of speed and power.

    The bicycle industry definition of a Class 2 electric bicycle, or “low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle”, limits the power to less than 750 watts with a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph. These are the exact same limits that apply to the industry definition for Class 1 electric bicycles.

    There is no evidence that Class 1 e-bikes are inherently safer than Class 2. In fact, Class 2 riders can maintain better control when they use a graduated throttle to start a bike rolling in a stable fashion so they can then start pedaling.

    Class 2 e-bikes don’t travel any faster than Class 1 with assistance. They should never be confused with unregulated high-speed e-bikes. It is unfair to discriminate against people who want or need a Class 2 e-bike when they are subject to the exact same power and assisted speed limits as Class 1.

    Many, maybe most, class 2 e-bikes offer the rider the option of both pedal-assist and throttle-assist.

    The throttle-assist is important functionality for many riders (e.g., older riders or those with physical limitations) who need a little extra help just to get an e-bike moving so they can start pedaling with the pedal-assist mode. For example, a rider stopped on a hill can use throttle-assist to help get the bike rolling in a controlled way so they can then start pedaling.

    Without the availability of throttle-assist, e-bikes are not a viable option for many people who could otherwise use them as an alternative to automobiles for transportation.

    Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes are identical in terms of power and assisted speed limits, so access should be equal in all cases.

  • MatthewEH

    “Effectively”, eh? I was just in Amsterdam, and “Blue Plate” motorscooters are a plague. The problematic ones technically legal muster for what’s required when they were sold, but are easily modded such that the speed governor is disabled; they’re a huge problem on bikeways throughout the city. It’s been a growing issue since at least 2011, and the national assembly has passed laws allowing localities to do something about it only just a few months ago.

  • J

    yes, that is what the 2nd article describes. It’s tricky, though, is the point, and this article completely lacks any of that nuance.

  • Randy Neufeld

    The stickers with speed and wattage are required in 9 states. (As of today! AZ gov signed their new ebike bill last night)

  • Nathan C Rhodes

    “Our bosses don’t let us do this work without e-bikes,” said Clemente Martinez, who also spoke through a translator.

    She spoke through an interpreter, not a translator. Translation is of written language. Interpretation is of spoken language.

  • What is the max speed an experienced biker can achieve with a lightweight bike in a flat surface, I would bet they easily beat the 40 mph mark. You said it the kinetic energy is affected more by speed than mass. So setting rules only for a type of vehicle is just discriminatory.