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Meet the E-Bike Using New Yorkers — Normal People Who Want Politicians to Stop Demonizing Them

One has bad knees and needs help to get around. Another has kids who have to get to soccer. And another buys groceries in one big trip. They're e-bike users — and they oppose a controversial City Council bill that would require license plates and registration.

12:00 AM EST on November 9, 2023

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You know what? E-bike users are normal everyday New Yorkers who are tired of being demonized.

One has bad knees and needs help to get around. Another has kids who have to get to soccer. And another buys groceries in one big trip.

They're e-bike users — everyday New Yorkers who defiantly oppose a controversial City Council bill that would require license plates and registration in the city for "every bicycle with electric assist, electric scooter and other legal motorized vehicle." And they're calling the proposed legislation a "regressive" move intended to demonize and de-normalize any means of travel that is not a car.

Citi Bike pedal-assist bikes, which are expected to double by the end of next year, are included in Council Member Bob Holden's bill. The Lyft-owned company opposes the legislation — and not only because its bikes are already labeled with numbers and rented by registered users.

"We’re concerned the bill would discourage personal e-bike ridership and actually decrease safety with fewer riders on the road," said company spokesperson Jordan Levine.

More important, everyday e-bike users who spoke to Streetsblog had a nearly unanimous reaction to the bill — it will do nothing to keep vulnerable road users safe, nor does it address the main concerns on city streets, like the surge in automobiles, the increase in reckless drivers, and the burgeoning crises represented by illegal mopeds.

Not only that, riders and advocates charge, it also speaks to the hypocrisy of a city that depends so heavily on the delivery workers who rely on their e-bikes to make a living, yet provides them with so little in return when it comes to safe streets, infrastructure, and equipment. For too long, the onus has been on individual riders to change a culture, but it's time for the city and the app-based delivery companies to step up and deliver, said Ligia Guallpa, the executive director of the Worker's Justice Project.

"We strongly disagree with registration ... because we all know this specific bill is being targeted at deliveristas, who are mostly workers of color, and migrant workers," said Guallpa. "The root causes of the problem are not our communities, but these multi-billion-dollar app companies who are pushing workers to take the risks, and are creating a culture of unsafe practices that not only puts workers’ safety at risk but the communities at risk. Many deliveristas may take shortcuts to try to stay safe because not everywhere in our city has protected bike lanes."

Let's meet some:

Nathaniel Bachalis, e-cargo bike rider

The bill will reduce the total number of riders and the safety-in-numbers effect; it will make us less safe. It just feels like such a kick in the stomach. It’s motivated by animus, but what have I done to offend you? If it’s about guys on the sidewalk, I do sometimes have to ride on the sidewalk because there are two parts on my block I cannot access because of the physical wall of parked cars on the curb.

The whole purpose is to discourage our numbers so we just disappear. The disparate treatment (of cars compared to e-bikes) just screams at you. I got bad knees … do I have to pedal harder to make you happy?

Selam Czebotar, e-cargo bike rider

Selam Czebotar and her kids riding in their e-cargo bike. Photo provided by Selam Czebotar

It’s a reliable mode of transportation, I can always count on it to get where I need to go in a timely fashion. It’s really disheartening and very discouraging because it essentially is telling people, "No, no, we’re gonna make it impossible for you to ride in the city."

This is making it a discouraging process. We already see things happening that are illegal and not even slightly mitigated or addressed. It seems to be targeting delivery workers more than anybody else. It’s easy to tackle the lone people as opposed to addressing other societal problems. I have seen plenty of cars driving around with no license, which is illegal, and I have seen cars run red lights.

Gustavo Ajche, founder of Los Deliveristas Unidos

Gustavo Ajche

I believe this legislation is not going to bring any good benefits to anyone because, every end of the month, the cops are going to target delivery workers or people who use e-bikes. Imagine if you have this law — it’s gonna make things harder not just for delivery workers, but for everyone.

The city has to focus more on education, education, education. A lot of people don’t know what the rules are in the city. The problem is not the e-bikes. It’s hard to see which mopeds are electric and which one has gas. A lot of people are using gas mopeds now. The city has to focus on that, and not target delivery workers who use e-bikes to bring support to their family, to bring food to tables.The winter is coming, we’re still waiting on the battery swap program, sometimes I get a little upset the city is moving so slowly.

A lot of workers have to invest hundreds of dollars to have their own bike, imagine if (they need a license), that's another expense. A lot of people come up with crazy ideas, they don't use e-bikes, maybe they don't like bikes, but stop and really think, if you want to get safe streets, you have to do things a different way, not just bring crazy legislation.

Charlie Todd, e-bike rider

Charlie Todd with his two kids on the back of his e-bike. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

Since getting an e-bike, the whole city has really been open up to us. We really go absolutely everywhere. If I had to get it licensed, I would because it's an important part of my family’s transportation plan.

But I really think it's unfortunate, I think the city needs to be doing everything they can to encourage families like mine to consider cargo bikes. For every family that is biking around in a cargo bike is one less family using Uber or god forbid, parking on the street and moving their car.

I think given our climate crisis and given the congestion on our streets and the air quality issues we're all dealing with, our government should not be putting any additional hurdles on getting people to switch to cycling. It's already a requirement for mopeds to have licenses and maybe 5 percent do. ... Why are we going to expand this when we're seeing zero enforcement?

Valentina Lopez, e-bike rider

Valentina Lopez riding with her 3-year-old son Maxim. Photo: Dave Colon

E-bikes are a very green thing to use, especially in a city like New York, where we can't fit one more car. There shouldn't be a law that will discourage people from owning one. I use it three, four times a day, every single day. I carry both kids in there. It cuts my commute time by a lot. 

It’s just impossibly expensive to own a car, parking is over $500 where I live. The e-bike is a one time payment of five-grand. I don't have to pay for gas, I don’t have to pay for parking, and I skip traffic.

Jeff Novich, e-bike rider

Jeff Novich and his family pose for their holiday photo with their e-bikes. Photo provided by Jeff Novich

It’s very misguided because it’s so, so broad. It’s not really a targeted, thoughtful policy. What’s the point of any of this? It doesn’t impact any safety. Today, obviously the biggest threat of all comes from drivers. They already have massive loopholes and issues, and there’s tons of people not licensed and still driving around with fake license plates. You have 10-ton Escalades making left turns through Sixth Avenue without looking, it’s 10,000 times more dangerous.

We use our bikes to ride our children around, we’re a car-free family. We rely entirely on our bikes to take our kids all over the place, to school, the doctor. It’s borderline impossible to bike two or three children in a cargo bike with no motor up some of these hills. We can't imagine life without bikes.

Noel Hidalgo, e-cargo bike rider

Noel Hidalgo and his wife, Lauren, on their wedding day with their e-cargo bike. Photo provided by Noel Hidalgo

If I have to go to a large grocery shop, I go on a cargo bike. I also leverage the cargo bike to move our seasonal clothing from our apartment to the storage closet. When we go to the beach I carry all our friends’ beach gear.

This law does not address the dangerous aspect of being a cyclist in the city. This provision does not address the safety aspect of fast motorized two-wheels, this is a purely regulatory framework as a way to criminalize individuals who are riding an electric assist. I wish [Holden] would address the reality that people need safe infrastructure comprehensively across the city and across his district, and people need multi-modality beyond a car or a car service. It’s very frustrating to deal with cycling infrastructure that is not only inconsistent, but also hasn't been forward thinking.

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