More than two years after he announced a crackdown on the kinds of e-bikes favored by low income immigrant workers, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the NYPD would continue to issue summonses and $500 fines to the delivery cyclists who use them, despite overwhelming support from New York’s legislators to legalize them, and zero evidence that they pose more of a danger than any other kind of bicycle.
“The e-bikes that are illegal, are illegal. We’ve been over this a thousand times. And we’re gonna enforce on something illegal,” de Blasio told reporters at a press conference on Monday afternoon.
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation that passed the state legislature this summer that would legalize e-bikes and e-scooters in New York, calling it “fatally flawed” because it did not have safety provisions like a mandatory helmet law. (All commercial cyclists in New York City are already required to wear helmets.)
“We’re gonna work to try and get a formula in Albany we can work with,” de Blasio said. “I actually thought, you know, the governor would’ve signed the bill and we’d be now going into the process of deciding the city’s rules.”
But until then, the mayor insisted that the workers should just find another way to make deliveries.
“Get something that actually fits. Follow the traffic laws, with a vehicle that’s meant to follow the traffic laws. Or take one of the legal options that exist,” de Blasio added, pointing out that pedal-assist e-bikes—the kind used by companies like Citi Bike, Amazon, and UPS—are legal on city streets, while the throttle-based e-bikes favored by low income workers are not.
“I’m not gonna be sorry about something when there’s an illegal option that people are using when they have instead legal options they’re not using,” the mayor said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Pedal-assist e-bikes tend to cost thousands of dollars more than the throttle versions, though both use essentially the same technology, and can travel similar speeds. The NYPD has said previously that there have been very few crashes involving e-bikes. Data compiled by The Biking Public Project earlier this year found that of the 45,775 vehicular crashes that occurred in 2018, only 31—or .07 percent—were caused by e-bike riders.
The mayor claimed that the city did not need any data to prove that throttle e-bikes are more dangerous than their pedal-assisted counterparts.
“Everyone asks that question, I keep coming back with something that is bluntly, in my view, better than data: it is common sense,” de Blasio said, minutes after delivering a lengthy press conference dedicated to carefully parsing crime data. “I have seen them with my own eyes, as have so many people I have talked to all over the city. They go on sidewalks, they go the wrong way down the street, they go too fast.”
Queens Councilmember Costa Constantinides wrote a letter to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea last week after Cuomo’s veto, imploring the department to stop ticketing delivery cyclists and confiscating their bikes “until the legislative process is worked out.” The City Council's Public Safety Committee Chair, Donovan Richards, made a similar request in December.
Asked on Monday if he would grant the councilmembers' request, Commissioner Shea sidestepped the question.
“I think that we have a balanced approach as it is,” Shea said. “First and foremost we care about safety.”
The mayor has previously said that businesses, not workers, should be fined for e-bike usage, but the vast majority of past enforcement activity has targeted the cyclists themselves.
It’s difficult to know how much enforcement activity is currently taking place, because the NYPD does not release the figures. A New York Times story from December 26 states that the department issued 1,114 summonses for riding an e-bike in 2019, but that the number of bikes seized was unknown because according to a spokesperson, the NYPD doesn’t “capture data to that level of specificity.”
Yet the NYPD has previously provided these numbers to Gothamist, and former NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan testified last year that the department confiscated 1,215 e-bikes in 2018, issued 1,154 e-bike summonses to individuals, and 167 e-bike summonses to commercial businesses.
Over the past month, the NYPD’s press office has ignored multiple emails and phone messages asking for the e-bike enforcement data.
The governor’s office did not respond to our request for comment.