When Mayor de Blasio announced his crackdown on electric bikes last fall, he said the city would target businesses that employ people who use the bikes to make deliveries — with fines and confiscations — rather than penalize delivery workers themselves.
E-bikes are legal to own in New York, but Albany has not fixed state law that makes them illegal to ride. De Blasio said that, beginning this month, the city would concentrate on levying $100 and $200 fines on businesses that use electric bikes. But those costs are often passed on to workers, and the penalty for individual e-bike users is much higher: fines of up to $500 plus confiscation of bikes they rely on to support themselves and their families.
Contrary to de Blasio’s claim that “employers purchase the bikes,” last October Do Lee of the Biking Public Project told Streetsblog that most delivery workers are independent contractors who own their own bikes and would, therefore, be directly responsible for paying fines. According to an official from the Upper West Side’s 20th Precinct, that’s exactly what’s happening.
The West Side Rag reports that Sgt. Felicia Montgomery briefed the Community Board 7 transportation committee earlier this month on precinct e-bike enforcement:
Sergeant Montgomery explained that when the bike is confiscated, the summons is given to the e-bike operator.
“People that work for, whether it’s UberEATS [or other] delivery services, they will go down to [the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings],” Montgomery explained. “If I take the bike tonight, they go down to OATH, pay the $500 fine. They don’t ask to go to court, they don’t ask for a court date, they pay the $500 fine and we’re mandated to give them the bike back because that’s their property. So a lot of the bikes that we take from the restaurants here, within 2 or 3 hours…they’re back in the precinct to pick up their bike.”
Montgomery said the 20th Precinct had seized 51 e-bikes. At the meeting, Captain Manuel from the 24th Precinct, directly north of the 20th, told CB 7 his command had confiscated 38 bikes.
For a worker who survives on tips and needs an electric bike to make as many deliveries as possible during a 12 to 16 hour shift, having the bike confiscated can be a life-altering ordeal. “If they don’t get their bikes back, if they can’t afford to get a new bike, they’ve lost their livelihood,” Lee told Streetsblog.
De Blasio and NYPD have framed the e-bike enforcement campaign as a component of Vision Zero, but the city has produced no data showing that e-bike riders pose a significant public safety threat. Montgomery told CB 7 members there was one e-bike crash in the 20th Precinct in 2017: the operator hit a pothole and was the only person injured.
Manuel didn’t have data from the 24th Precinct, but said, “we’re not seeing a lot of collisions with e-bikes,” the Rag reported.
Meanwhile, across Central Park in the 19th Precinct — where motorists have killed no fewer than 19 people in the Vision Zero era, many of them walking with the right of way — police tweeted photos of dozens of e-bikes “confiscated from streets and sidewalks,” though owning an e-bike per se is not illegal.
Illegal #EBikes for as far as the eyes can see.
— NYPD 19th Precinct (@NYPD19Pct) January 6, 2017
“We don’t want to see the little guy, the average working person, have to deal with the fines,” de Blasio told anxious working cyclists last December. But so far that’s how his crackdown is playing out.