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Judge: Restaurant Owners, Not Workers, Must Pay Fines for E-Bikes

E-bikes confiscated by the 19th Precinct

New York City businesses — not their delivery people — are liable for  fines incurred by workers operating e-bikes on their behalf, a city administrative judge has ruled, blowing a huge legal hole in Mayor de Blasio's misguided crackdown on the types of electric bikes preferred by the workers.

On July 12, Mitch Regenbogen, a judge with the Office of Administrating Trials and Hearings, dismissed two $500 e-bike tickets against Soho Sushi restaurant worker Yili Liu — and at the same time, rebuked the city for continuing to charge delivery people like Liu instead of their employees [PDF].

Liu's lawyer, Legal Aid Society attorney Steven Wasserman, agreed that city law prohibits the operation of throttle-powered e-bikes like the one Liu was riding because they are classified as "electric scooters" under section 19-176.2(b) of the city administrative code. But another section — 10-157(k) — states that businesses are "liable for any AC 19-176.2(b) violations committed by any person operating a motorized scooter on behalf of such businesses."

"I agree with Mr. Wasserman," Regenbogen wrote in his ruling. It was the first time Wasserman said he had gotten such a response in roughly two dozen e-bike cases that he has argued citing section 10-157(k).

Regenbogen's ruling wasn't only based on the law, but included a comment by Mayor de Blasio from when he began the crackdown last October. At the time, the mayor said that "those on the top of the food chain need to be held accountable." Regenbogen quoted those very words in his dismissal of the fines against Liu.

Nonetheless, since the crackdown began, workers have borne the brunt of the enforcement blitz. Each e-bike ticket nets $500 for the city. If police also confiscate their bikes, workers end up losing thousands of dollars in fines, wages, and property.

The NYPD, meanwhile, has given out far fewer fines to businesses than to delivery bike users, according to data obtained by Streetsblog. As of July 18, the department had confiscated 541 bikes, issued 805 moving violations, and cited e-bike operators 345 times. Businesses  received only 138 violations.

Evidence indicates that businesses are evading enforcement. In all of Wasserman's cases, none of the officers who have been called to testify admitted to having ticketed an employer.

“I think the mayor is under the impression that the business owners are going to be paying the fines. It’s not happening," Wasserman said. "They’re pretty much just handing the summonses to the bicycle riders."

The July 12 ruling was the decision of just one judge, and is not necessarily precedent-setting. Still, judges have been relatively lenient towards delivery workers. Most cases get thrown out on technicalities, Wasserman said.

"We’ve been experiencing a lot of sympathy for the food delivery workers [in court]," he said.

Streetsblog reached out to City Hall for comment.

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