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First-in-the-Nation Charging Hubs for Delivery Workers Coming Soon to Abandoned Newsstands

Sen. Chuck Schumer and Mayor Adams announced last month plans to turn vacant newsstands, like the one behind them, into charging hubs for delivery workers. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Delivery workers will finally be able to charge their electric bicycles — and themselves — at new hubs created out of retrofitted newsstands, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Mayor Adams announced on Monday.

The repurposed defunct print distribution stands, the first of its kind in the nation, will feature charging stations safe for lithium-ion batteries, bike parking, and a place for deliveristas to rest or ride out bad weather a constant occupational hazard for a work force estimated to contain 65,000 delivery workers.

“You’re riding this bike a long time. You need a break. Maybe you got to make a phone call. Maybe you have to take care of your personal needs, all of these things,” Schumer said, alongside members of Los Deliveristas Unidos, the collective of app-based delivery workers that formed two years ago to fight for better working conditions, livable wages and access to bathrooms. Since last year, New York’s senior senator has been something of a guardian angel.

“They’re constantly out on the street, no place to rest, no shelter to protect them — imagine it’s pouring rain, or even snow and you still got to do this,” he said. “And so we’re going to take underutilized public space on our streets like this newsstand right behind us. Very simple.”

Schumer said the funding will be allocated in a federal spending bill in December, but it’s unclear how far the promised $1-million federal cash infusion will go — the mayor’s office could not say how many hubs will be built, or where. For now, the plan to convert “underutilized public space” into charging and rest stations does not extend beyond derelict newsstands, which Adams called a “blight.”

The mayor also could not say whether similarly abandoned outdoor dining structures could also be used as hubs for deliveristas — instead of razing them.

“These vacant newsstands were perfect examples of how to properly use the infrastructure so that they can charge the batteries, they could take a break, they could get out of the inclement weather, they could connect to the resources of the city,” Adams said, standing in front of one such stand.

Abandoned no more. The city will retrofit these vacant newsstands into charging hubs for delivery workers. Photo: Julianne Cuba

“We want to look at all these structures and [ask] how do we use them appropriately … so that we can use infrastructure in the right way,” the mayor said. “How do we turn a blight into a tool that could be used to provide a job? The newsstand business has evolved and changed and we know this is the best way to do it.”

Details were scant. It could still be months before any are actually up and running, and the City Hall press release also made a vague promise that “a portion of the federal grant will also be used to help renovate a worker center in Williamsburg for deliveristas.”

It also said that hubs will be sited “with input from … communities” so that they are “beneficial to delivery workers and neighborhood residents alike.”

No other details were provided, but at the press conference near City Hall, Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said any conversion into charging stations will have to go through the agency’s formal concessions process.

“It will take at least a few months because we’ll be seeking a sole source agreement to move these forward,” said Donoghue.

And the hubs, which will be designed by Manuel Mansylla, a co-founder of Oonee and founder of his own urban architecture firm, FANTÁSTICA, will not contain bathrooms — which were once a flashpoint for delivery workers who were forbidden from using the restrooms at some of the very restaurants from which they were delivering food.

But thanks to new city laws that went into effect at the start of this year, including mandating restaurants to allow delivery workers to use their restrooms, that’s thankfully not the main concern anymore, said Gustavo Ajche, a delivery worker and union leader. Now, what he and his colleagues need is more safe and secure bike infrastructure.

“The bathroom is different, there’s no problem with that any more. What we need here is more parking spaces. In this area, there’s no bike shops,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city is still mulling a ban on e-bikes anywhere on New York City Housing Authority property. The comment period for the proposed policy change closed last month and a decision has not yet been announced. A conversation of lots of defunct news stands or other unused public space could mitigate any such ban.

Neither DoorDash or Uber responded to requests for comment if the companies would allocate any funding towards the hubs.

Not everyone loves the ideas of newsstands being repurposed for e-bike charging stations.

“After car chargers on the sidewalk, this is another installment of the city taking pedestrian space to create charging stations,” said Christine Berthet of CHEKPEDS, the pedestrian advocacy group that has long called for creation of more public space for pedestrians. “This is very upsetting.”

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