By Mayor Bill de Blasio's own admission, the laws governing electric bikes in New York don't make a whole lot of sense.
While e-bikes are required to be registered as motorcycles under state law, they are simultaneously prohibited from accessing that registration by the DMV. When the Department of Transportation unveiled a new Citi Bike expansion yesterday that will include 1,000 new electric bikes, the announcement made no mention of de Blasio's ongoing crackdown of e-bike riders.
A rule issued by the DOT on Thursday seeks to clear up the confusion on who gets to zip around on an e-bike legally, and who gets a hefty fine and their property seized by the NYPD. According to that "clarifying" rule, the city has determined that pedal-assisted battery powered bikes are street legal, while the throttle-controlled battery-powered bikes are not. The latter version is typically cheaper, and widely preferred by the restaurant employees who rely on the motorized bicycles to complete over a hundred deliveries each day. It is also unclear what the city plans to do about hybrid bikes, which allow riders to toggle between pedal-assist and throttle-assist.
“We appreciate the feedback we received from New Yorkers through the rule-making process these last few months—including from those looking to find solutions for delivery workers who often ride throttle e-bikes," DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in a statement. "For now, we believe that this new rule will help us join other world cities opening the door to an increasingly popular, safe and low-emission mode of travel that helps cyclists climb hills and travel longer distances."
As it stands, delivery riders who do not have the right type of e-bike will continue to be targeted, and expected to pay a $500 fine if cops seize their bikes. According to the mayor, the crackdown is also aimed at "those on the top of the food chain" who employ the e-bike riders.
But delivery cyclists who spoke with Gothamist in April said that is almost never the case, because they're effectively treated as independent contractors. One Midtown delivery worker estimated that he paid $4,000 in various e-bike fines over the course of the year, with no help from his boss. In the first four months of 2018, the NYPD issued 459 moving violations to e-bike riders, and seized 320 of the bikes. Only 48 restaurants were cited for employing delivery cyclists with e-bikes during that time.
"It really fits with everything we do at Vision Zero," the mayor explained at a press conference announcing the crackdown last year. "Vision Zero is about making us safe, no matter what the threat is."