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Chaos Reigned During GrubHub’s ‘Free Lunch’ Day in May, But Not on Streets 

12:01 AM EDT on July 3, 2022

A delivery cyclist riding on the crumbling roads in Blissville, Queens. Photo: Julianne Cuba

The disastrous “free lunch” sponsored by Grubhub a month ago caused hell to break loose in overwhelmed restaurant kitchens, yet it had no effect on the number of crashes or injuries that day — proof, yet again, that delivery workers’ e-bikes are not the problem on city streets.

Despite fear mongering, including from influential pols who claim that e-bikes and mopeds have unleashed a “bloody battle” on New York streets, the number of crashes recorded by the NYPD on May 17 — the day the food delivery app’s “free” lunch unleashed deliveristas criss-crossing the city between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. — was consistent with other days that week, and even fewer than the day after.

That Tuesday, there were 311 crashes across all five boroughs — just 15 more than the day before, 22 fewer than the day after, and nine fewer than the same day the year before, which was a Monday, according to the city’s Motor Vehicle Collisions database.

And, in fact, just 47 of those 311 crashes involved a bike, e-bike, or any type of moped — up just one from the same day a year earlier. The remaining crashes involved drivers behind the wheels of multi-ton vehicles like cars and trucks, for reasons including “Failed to Yield Right-of-Way,” “Following Too Closely,” “Driver Inattention/Distraction” and “Backing Unsafely,” according to the database.

“Clearly e-bikes are not the danger,” said Bike New York’s Jon Orcutt.

So today, GrubHub offered $15 off orders from 11am to 2pm in NYC, which got thousands of customers to order free meals within that time window.

The issue? They didn't tell restaurants & delivery workers they were doing this.

— wells (oakland enby) (@WellsLucasSanto) May 17, 2022

And specifically, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., there were 33 crashes across the city, 10 percent of the total number that day — a typical ratio compared to other days, according to city data.

According to delivery worker Gustavo Ajche, who helped start Los Deliveristas Unidos in 2020, a good lunchtime rush means 20 to 30 deliveries. But on May 17, Ajche said, he made about 75.

“There were a lot of trips, it was a crazy day,” he said.

crazy lunch shift many people ran out of their free lunch it's 3:42 pm here there are many orders that are from 12 noon ?

— gustavo ajche (@AjcheGustavo) May 17, 2022

There weren’t necessarily more of the city’s roughly 65,000 delivery workers — who typically traverse the boroughs on battery-powered e-bikes in order to more expediently drop off burritos for hungry New Yorkers before they get cold. They just made more trips, according to Ajche.

“In the area where I work, there were the same amount of delivery workers. We were busy, nobody was standing in the street, we were going back and forth,” he said.

Yet even amid the chaos, even fewer crashes involving bikes and e-bikes that day caused injuries. At least 22 pedestrians, 19 cyclists, and 82 motorists were injured in the 311 crashes on May 17, according to the database — reflective of the spike in speeding and reckless driving that is hurting and killing motorists themselves at higher rates than anyone else on the road. And it’s unclear how many, if any, of those injuries were actually caused by delivery workers on e-bikes, as the city’s database doesn’t specify who was involved, or how the crash occurred.

So far this year, 35 motor vehicle occupants have been killed in car crashes, up seven from the same time period last year. The number of fatalities is relatively flat across cyclists, motorcyclists, and those listed as “other motorized,” according to data provided by the Department of Transportation, and it’s even down among pedestrians, from 63 in 2021 to 50 so far this year.

Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT

And injuries to cyclists are also down 1.1 percent, compared to the same time period the year before, according to NYPD data, despite a continuous bike boom that took off during the pandemic and is still growing.

“One of the dynamics we’ve been seeing is fatalities are up, but most are motorist fatalities,” said Orcutt.

The lack of a surge in crashes involving e-bikes, on a day when those calling for their abolition and regulation would expect more, follows similar patterns previously reported by Streetsblog. Amid calls last summer by state Sen. Simcha Felder (?-Boro Park) to crack down on bike riders by requiring delivery cyclists to wear a helmet; requiring all cyclists (even users of non-motorized bikes) to get a license and take a driver’s ed-style safety course; requiring all bikes to have a license plate; and requiring bike riders to carry liability insurance like car driver, Streetsblog crunched city stats and found that 93 percent of 3,101 pedestrian-injury collisions, between Jan. 1 and June 25, 2021, were caused by the driver of a truck, van, SUV, car or other four-plus-wheeled motor vehicle. Only 132 crashes — or 4 percent — were caused by the users of e-bikes, e-scooters, mopeds or motorscooters (plus all the other words that cops use to classify two-wheeled motored vehicles).

Those numbers also followed Streetsblog’s reporting from 2019, which revealed that e-bike riders caused just 32 — or .05 percent — of all the 61,939 injuries to all road users in 2018.

Grubhub did not respond to requests for comment.

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