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Bill de Blasio

Mayor: I Do Care About Immigrants — Just Not the Ones Forced to Use E-Bikes to Feed the Rich

4:58 PM EDT on June 4, 2019

Mayor de Blasio (with Police Commissioner O’Neill to his right) says he is sympathetic towards e-bike delivery workers. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor de Blasio now says he will help delivery workers who use illegal e-bikes — the very same struggling, low-wage workers who have been the target of his fiscally onerous crackdown.

In an unrelated press conference about police statistics on Tuesday, de Blasio claimed the city would "look at a host of options" to help delivery workers if the state does not legalize the bikes with pending legislation. The mayor's comments came after Streetsblog asked him why he has done nothing to help some of New York's lowest-paid workers — and, indeed, has called upon the NYPD to confiscate their bikes — as they ride illegal bikes to better serve wealthy customers.

Advocates, for example, have called on the mayor to create a program to convert their illegal e-bikes into legal pedal-assist e-bikes.

The full exchange is telling:

Streetsblog: Mr. Mayor, there was another crackdown on illegal e-bikes today in the 19th Precinct. I’ve asked you about these before and you rightly point out that the bikes are illegal, and the NYPD is merely enforcing the law. So I'd like to ask it a different way: You’re known as a progressive, empathic, empathetic leader. So I wonder if you could imagine for a minute what your life would be like if you were a struggling immigrant delivery worker in a difficult city, a strange city, struggling to make a living under high-pressure circumstances like they are?

Mayor: Look, I think there are so many immigrants in this city who are struggling to make ends meet. It's tough. They're here trying to take care of their families and any one of us who remembers our immigrant roots can relate to that. My grandparents came here, did not speak English, had to come to an entirely different society and try to make it. So I feel for anyone and I respect everyone who is trying to do that for their family.

At the same time, I believe that the first thing we have to consider in public policy is safety. And right now, we have a really challenging situation where e-bikes are illegal by state law and we have a real safety problem [Editor's note: This is untrue]. My hope is that the legislature will act while there is still time to come up for a regulatory approach that makes sense or to defer to localities and let localities figure out that regulatory approach. But right now we have a situation that is not legally clear enough and a safety issue that must be addressed at the same time.

The mayor's answer made reference to a state bill that would allow cities to decide for themselves whether to legalize e-bikes — allowing the City Council to pass a legalization bill and put the ball back into the mayor's court. But even if the state fails to act, the mayor could do something. So Streetsblog asked the obvious follow up:

Streetsblog: But you could as mayor come up with a program, for example, to convert these e-bikes into legal pedal assist bikes — the city has obviously legalized those forms. Why not do something progressive like that?

De Blasio: Look, I think the first role is to get the legislature to act so that we can have a legal framework. If that doesn't happen, we're going to look at all other options. I want to put the horse before the cart here, Gersh, and I know your constituency, your readers, would be most interested in this: we have a chance to actually get this matter addressed in Albany. That's the best solution. If that doesn't happen, we're going to look at a host of options.

It is unclear what "options" are being discussed. And it is unclear if State Senator Jessica Ramos's e-bike legalization bill will pass before the end of the legislative session this month.

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