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Delivery Workers Implore DOT For Sensible E-Bike Rules

6:05 PM EDT on May 29, 2018

Delivery worker Hongjian Lin, 54, far right, received seven tickets for using his e-bike this month alone. Photo: David Meyer

Delivery workers want the city to decriminalize use of the widest range of e-bikes allowable under state law. That includes bikes that have been converted to pedal-assist after purchase, workers said at a DOT hearing today, not just bikes that were manufactured that way.

After Mayor de Blasio's e-bike crackdown generated an uproar for its punitive effect on delivery workers, in April DOT announced it would change city rules to explicitly legalize pedal-assist e-bikes. Unlike throttle e-bikes, pedal-assist electric bikes aren't prohibited by state law.

But the draft city rule would only sanction e-bikes "equipped at manufacture" with pedal-assist [PDF]. Advocates say that's too narrow and would impose too high a cost on delivery workers.

Delivery workers primarily use "combination bikes" that can tap into power from an electric battery via both handlebar throttles and the pedals. Those would remain illegal under the proposed rule even if the throttle were disabled, meaning delivery workers would still be vulnerable to traffic stops resulting in fines, confiscations, and lost wages that can total hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

To comply with the rule as it's currently drafted, these workers would have to buy new bikes. Pedal-assist bikes tend to cost at least $2,000, testified Damon Victor, owner of GreenPath Electric Bike -- much more than throttle-powered models that can be converted to pedal-assist.

The Justice Delivered Coalition -- comprised of Make the Road, Transportation Alternatives, the Asian American Federation, and other organizations -- wants the rule amended to allow DIY pedal-assist conversions. They're also calling on the city to provide resources and education to workers who need their bikes converted.

"My coworkers and I have been criminalized for using e-bikes," Make the Road member Clemente Martinez, 44, told DOT reps through a translator. "On the other side, my boss is also demanding that I use e-bikes."

Hongjian Lin, 54, said he'd been stopped four times and given seven citations in the month of May alone. Last Thursday, he was severely injured by a car door and briefly hospitalized. When police showed up at the hospital, they handed him a $500 ticket.

"Every ticket I received costs over $100 dollars," Lin said in Chinese. "The police are really strict, and I'm always scared and have anxiety every day because of it."

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