With crime and the general sense of urban decay down around the city, and visiting conservative dignitaries owning the homeless-kicking beat, there's only so much around here that can be made into a moral panic. But, there's always deliverymen on e-bikes, which is back in the news after Mayor de Blasio suggested business owners pay fines for their deliverymen riding the bikes instead of the deliverymen themselves. Yet even if that punch to the wallets of restaurant owners curbed the use of electric bikes, it would only hurt the deliverymen who need them in order to feed the constant churn of food deliveries ordered by...well, us.
Responding to an Upper West Side resident who called into The Brian Lehrer Show to ask what the mayor would do to enforce the city's ban on e-bikes, de Blasio suggested that since restaurant owner are the ones with the money, they should pay the $500 fine for e-bike use.
"This fits my personal belief that when you are dealing with the problems of the free enterprise system go to the people with the money, go to the people making the money off the situation not — necessarily the individual worker," de Blasio told the caller and Lehrer. And while it's better than calling the deliverymen themselves a scourge, the comments do nothing to actually solve two problems that the free market causes.
One is, as the Voice reported in their look at the lives of deliverymen in the city, that the employees are only paid $4.50 per hour in most cases, the minimum wage for tipped workers at restaurants with fewer than 10 employees. And that's if they make that much at all, since undocumented workers could wind up taking an even smaller hourly wage.
Tips are the name of the game in delivery, and if the city isn't going to demand that deliverymen make $15 per hour, that means doing the most deliveries possible during a shift so you can actually bring home a somewhat decent payday. That in turn means biking all over a delivery area for hours and hours at a time.
I've done this job, or a cousin of it anyway, delivering bread by bike to restaurants all over Brooklyn. Even as a relatively fit 27-year-old, I was beat to hell by the end of a shift after 20 miles or so of biking back and forth over a few hours. If you're an older delivery man or someone who needs to do as many deliveries as you can manage in an expansive delivery zone, you're still getting punished if your boss tells you that the e-bike fines aren't worth it.
I was fortunate in that I didn't rely on tips or having to deliver hot food, which brings up the second problem with railing about e-bikes alone: us. Many people don't give a second thought to the people involved in their food after ordering off of Seamless or Postmates. Seamless would have you believe "their" deliverymen are superheroes, that "they" will bike to you after you're done with spin class. And of course, they'll do it fast, because the app economy is about nothing if not instant gratification.
But those deliverymen aren't "with" Seamless of course, since all it does is provide a platform from which you can order food. The actual, overworked and vilified deliverymen doing the actual work in this equation aren't treated like heroes by the general public, who see no problem with calls to fine them and take away the tools of their livelihood.
Would you still tip 20 percent on food that you had to wait an extra half-hour for because a deliveryman has to power himself with only his legs? Would you ditch tips altogether in exchange for higher prices on your delivery so that deliverymen weren't stuck making under five dollars per hour?
Deliverymen should follow traffic laws just like anyone else, and it's no fun to have an e-bike rider zip by you and almost run over your foot (or worse). Annoyance with e-bikes on the city streets though, is just a convenient scapegoat for people who don't want to deal with the larger problems of exploitation endemic to the way they get their food.