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

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 (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.

  • “Let someone act first, and then if they don’t, maybe we’ll find a solution even though better ones have been staring us in the face for years.”

    The lazy and disinterested mayor in a nutshell.

  • “And in the meantime, I’ll allow my police force to continue ruining immigrants lives,” said the allegedly progressive politician who’s pretending to run for president.

  • Joseph S

    “Forced”?

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    why don’t these dumb delivery guys just buy pedal assist bikes in the first place? it’s cause they don’t care and WANT throttles on their bikes. it’s that simple.

  • Joe R.

    Pedal assist won’t work for this type of job. The delivery people ride up to several hundred miles per day. That’s impossible to do unless you have a throttle e-bike. Pedal assist reduces, but doesn’t eliminate, the physical effort. E-bikes expanded the delivery boundaries and there’s no going back if a restaurant wishes to remain competitive.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    uhh. they did this job before ebikes which was like less than half a decade ago

  • qrt145

    Several hundred miles per day? I doubt it. Let’s take “several” to mean three, and let’s say they work ten hours. Do you think they ride 30 miles per hour, on average, on a bike, including stops to pick up and drop off the deliveries? I think it’s under 100 miles. Still an impressive distance!

  • Janet Liff

    I use the First Avenue bike lane a lot and about 6/10 bikes are either pedal assist or throttle. As long as the bikes are a little noisy, it’s not a problem. These delivery man know how to ride and are no faster than an aggressive cyclist. It’s the occasional scooter that’s unsettling.

  • Joe R.

    And restaurants had to have much smaller delivery radii due to the limits of human power.

  • Joe R.

    Not 300 miles but a former tenant of the house next door who rented a cot in the basement, and worked in one of the local Chinese takeouts, said 100 miles was an average day, but a really busy day could get past 150, even 200. BTW, we’re talking a 12 hour day, which is what these people usually work. To do 150 miles in a 12 hour day you would need only need to average 12.5 mph. That’s doable cruising at 20 mph and maybe stopping about 25% to actually make the deliveries. 200 mile days probably involved working 16 hours or more.

  • qrt145

    Sorry about lowballing the number of hours. I did it to simplify the math, because it didn’t detract from my point that 300 miles is practically impossible. I went with 300 based on a dictionary’s definition of “several” as “more than two but not many”, and assumed that the dictionary was implying integers, therefore three is the smallest “several”. 🙂

    When you say your neighbor worked for one of the local Chinese takeouts, do you mean in Eastern Queens? Maybe deliveries are spaced farther apart there, and maybe the lower-density housing makes each delivery stop quicker. From my experience in Manhattan (as a customer, not a delivery worker!), many restaurants don’t offer deliveries more than a mile away, or maybe a mile and a half, so trips are short. Also, delivery workers spend several (there’s that word again 🙂 minutes at each delivery stop, having to deal with walk-up buildings or elevators, and sometimes with doormen who call the tenant to confirm that they are expecting a delivery, etc. Also I doubt that they can average 20 mph while on the bike, because even the nimblest (or more lawless?) is slowed down by traffic sometimes (they don’t ride at 20 mph while filtering between lanes), and stop at *some* red lights.

    Also, do they really deliver non-stop all those hours? The food delivery business tends to have peak hours. I have seen delivery workers hanging out at restaurants for a substantial amount of time while waiting for their next order to be ready. I’m not saying this to minimize the amount of work they do, which is considerable; I just want to be realistic about the distances.

    FWIW, the most I’ve ridden in one day was 75 miles, with several breaks, and yes, it was tiring. It was the last (and longest) day of a three-day tour over very flat terrain and I was about 30 at the time. I can’t imagine riding such distances every day.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, he worked at one of the deliver places in Eastern Queens. Forgot which one, but they have a pretty large delivery radius. We regularly order from Peter’s Kitchen, for example, which is about 2 miles away. When my brother orders, he picks up but when one of friends orders, we get a delivery. They happen to use a car but a lot here use e-bikes.

    Cruising at 20 mph in mixed NYC traffic I find I can generally average 13 to 16 mph overall. Yes, there are often peak times for deliveries, but places often tailor their staff so they only have one or two delivery people full-time, with part timers coming in for a few hours around dinner time. The part timers would generally be students, or people working second jobs. The delivery people want to be always making deliveries since they largely live on tips.

    Yeah, I couldn’t imagine riding even 50 miles a day, never mind the amount these guys do on e-bikes. It may be less in Manhattan, perhaps only 50 to 75 miles a day, but it’s still farther than a typical 40 or 50 year old delivery person can do 6 or 7 days a week on a pedal assist e-bike, never mind a regular pedal bike.

  • AMH

    Because they’re more expensive.

  • Knut Torkelson

    de Blasio isn’t just a terrible mayor, he’s a genuinely bad person who doesn’t care about people. I wish him nothing but ill will.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    expensive? the throttle one is like 800-1200 bucks. pedal assist are the same. they just want the throttle.

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