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Advocates For Legalizing E-Bikes & E-Scooters See A Roadblock: State Senator Liz Krueger

Yang Hai described the patrons of the Upper East Side Chinese restaurant he works for as “people with low incomes, that’s who I deliver to most often,” he says in Mandarin. “The doormen, the security guards, construction workers, nurses, the people that work in this neighborhood."
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Yang Hai described the patrons of the Upper East Side Chinese restaurant he works for as “people with low incomes, that’s who I deliver to most often,” he says in Mandarin. “The doormen, the security guards, construction workers, nurses, the people that work in this neighborhood." Scott Heins / Gothamist

New Jersey legalized e-bikes and e-scooters a month ago. But with just one week left in New York's legislative session, a bill that could potentially legalize the devices here appears to be stalled.

The proposal sponsored by Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos and Queens Assemblymember Nily Rozic changes state law to legalize e-bikes and electric scooters, but gives localities the opportunity to decide for themselves how to regulate the vehicles.

While pedal-assisted e-bikes are legal to ride in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has cracked down on the illegal throttle-assisted bikes favored by immigrant delivery cyclists, and workers routinely face $500 fines and having their bikes confiscated by the NYPD.

There are now more than a thousand electric mopeds on the streets of Brooklyn available for short-term rentals, but companies are barred from introducing the smaller kinds of scooters that have gained popularity in San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Mexico City.

The City Council's efforts to legalize the vehicles relies on state action.

"Though this is a bill before the Transportation Committee, I largely see it as a labor bill that protects workers, I see it as a criminal justice reform bill that protects immigrant workers, and I see it as an environmental bill that protects our planet as well," Senator Ramos said at a public hearing on her bill in Flushing, Queens last Friday.

Rozic's bill has 51 sponsors, while Ramos's bill has 23 co-sponsors in the Senate, with a notable exception of Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger, the powerful chair of the Senate's Finance Committee.

"She feels that in Manhattan in particular, we're already overcrowded in the sidewalks, the bike lanes, and the streets, and the situation is different in other localities," Justin Flagg, a spokesperson for Krueger, told Gothamist. "But that's been her observation in Manhattan and that's what she's hearing from her constituents."

Famously detail-oriented when it comes to issues like illegal short-term apartment rentals and marijuana legalization, Krueger's office could not provide any hard evidence to back up their assertions.

"There is broad agreement that just one person in Albany is now preventing this from passing: Senator Liz Krueger, whose district receives as many food deliveries as any by low-wage New Yorkers on e-bikes," Marco Conner, the co-deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, told Gothamist in a statement.

"Senator Krueger is standing perilously close to the wrong side of history by refusing to legalize e-bikes and refusing to recognize the data that shows that cars, not e-bikes, are what harms New Yorkers on our streets," he added.

Flagg denied that accusation, pointing out that "Senator Krueger is one of 39 Democrats in the Senate—she is not responsible for the failure of this bill to move so far."

On Tuesday afternoon, Transportation Alternatives hosted a pizza party outside Senator Krueger's Manhattan office to draw attention to her position. The pizzas were delivered, as they often are, by immigrant delivery cyclists who rely on e-bikes for their livelihoods.

"On a daily basis I’m afraid of the police because they will take my bike," Marcos Osvaldo Cumes, a delivery cyclist who has worked four years in Midtown, told Gothamist.

"It’s a big loss when our bike gets confiscated, we have to look for other ways to work. It’s a big burden on us."

"I’m scared because all the time, I need to look around for the police," worker Emanuel Etoumou added. "I remember yesterday I almost hit a car because I was scared and looking around me."

A spokesperson for Senator Ramos, Julia Arredondo, said that the senator is "still pushing to get this legislation through this session, and having conversations with her colleagues in hopes of having additional cosponsors on the bill." A spokesperson for Senator Timothy Kennedy, the chair of the Transportation Committee, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Queens Senator John Liu—who sat next to Ramos at last week's hearing in Flushing, and who told the audience, "I agree with everything Senator Ramos has said already"—does not intend to co-sponsor the bill, a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the NYPD's crackdown on e-bikes continues apace. Last week, a video showed a delivery cyclist in handcuffs in Senator Krueger's district on Manhattan's Upper East Side, his e-bike confiscated.

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Delivery man on Electric Bike arrested in Upper East Side New York Arrest that happened on 1st Avenue and East 70th Street around 10:30am on June 4th 2019 in Upper East Side, New York. As per officer's statement riding the electric bike is illegal when "not in the bike lane". His bike appeared to be electric and he had Dairy Delivery logo on his bucket. The bike was confiscated and the man taken in. We were unable to verify the charges. UPDATE: (Via @NYPD DCPI) On Tuesday, June 4 , 2019 at approximately 1027 hours opposite of 1302 1st Avenue officers observed a 40-year-old male operating a unregistered motorized scooter in a bicycle lane. Charges: Aggravated Unlicensed Operator- 3rd Motor Vehicle License- Violation: No License Licensing desk@scootercaster.com #electricbike #bikenyc #bike #arrest #nypd #law

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Police say that Djelloul Boulkhrachef, a Queens resident, was arrested and charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, and driving without a license. A witness reportedly said that police pulled him over for not being in the bike lane.

"A Chinese food deliveryman is the only guy who'll ride a bike on the Major Deegan at night with no helmet, no lights, to delivery ten dollars worth of Chinese food," a person named "Jimmy," who called into Bike Snob's WBAI show, said on Tuesday. "Jimmy" said he was from Orange County, and identified himself as a 30-year veteran of the NYPD's Highway Patrol Unit.

"It's not a stereotype if it's the truth," Jimmy added.

"A lot of the problem with the cyclists, and I know you don't wanna say it, but it's people from third world cultures where they do not have traffic lights, they do not have sidewalks, they don't even know how to cross the street, they need to be educated when they come here," Jimmy continued. "When they come here they need to acclimate to the culture. They need to be taught what red means, what a green light means, what a yellow light means, and all these types of safety things which do not exist in their countries."

With additional reporting from Adwait Patil.

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