The first full year of Mayor Bill de Blasio's war on e-bikes fell overwhelmingly on the shoulders of individual cyclists, not businesses who employ delivery cyclists, despite the mayor's promises that the "little guy" wouldn't be affected.
Police officers issued 669 e-bike tickets, 1,383 moving violations, and seized 910 e-bikes in 2018, according to the NYPD. Just 210 businesses were given citations for using e-bikes. [Update: On January 23, The NYPD's Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan testified at a city council hearing that the department confiscated 1,215 e-bikes in 2018, and issued 1,154 e-bike summonses to individuals, and 167 e-bike summonses to commercial businesses. Another 1,362 moving violations were issued to e-bikers in 2016.]
City law explicitly states that employers are "liable" for the $500 e-bike fines their workers get. Illegal e-bikes with throttles are predominately used by working cyclists, unlike the legal, pedal-assisted e-bikes that are used by Citi Bike commuters.
On November 20th, the department issued a memo to all its uniformed officers, directing them to follow the law. But from October 28th through December 31st, they only handed out four e-bike tickets to businesses; over that same time period they issued 79 e-bike tickets to cyclists, and confiscated nearly 100 bikes.
"Those at the top of the food chain need to be held accountable," the mayor said in October of 2017, when he announced that the NYPD would be cracking down on e-bike usage. "That's why instead of merely targeting riders, we're going after businesses that look the other way and leave their workers to shoulder the fine."
An NYPD spokesman said the department did not keep data on e-bike citations to individuals or businesses prior to 2018, so it's difficult to compare the first year of de Blasio's crackdown to previous years; police issued 892 moving summonses (for offenses like reckless driving or weaving in and out of traffic) and confiscated 1,007 e-bikes in 2017. (NBC reported in late 2017 that the department had handed out 892 Environmental Control Board citations, which would appear to be a combined figure for all e-bike citations for both individuals and businesses.)
No 2019 numbers are available yet, but several NYPD precincts have tweeted about confiscating e-bikes in the new year.
One of our communities top complaints are the reckless use of E-Bikes & we hear you. This past week we took these additional E-Bikes off the streets of the #UpperEastSide.
If your business uses electric bikes please discontinue or face fines & confiscation. #VisionZero pic.twitter.com/HLmhfLPlo9
— NYPD 19th Precinct (@NYPD19Pct) January 14, 2019
— NYPD 24th Precinct (@NYPD24Pct) January 17, 2019
— NYPD 13th Precinct (@NYPD13Pct) January 10, 2019
Do Lee, a member of the #DeliverJusticeCoalition who wrote his PhD thesis in environmental psychology on delivery cyclists at the CUNY Graduate Center, said the 2018 data "just confirms what we have known and continue to hear from workers—that NYC continues to inflict its immigrant delivery workers with the brunt of e-bikes fines and confiscations."
Lee added, "The Mayor and the City can soon take a big step toward ending this persecution of immigrant delivery workers by legalizing e-bikes and instead focus on issues that would make worker lives better and safer."
The Mayor's Office did not respond to a request for comment.
The de Blasio administration has not provided any concrete evidence that e-bikes are more dangerous or that they have caused more crashes than regular bicycles.
Meanwhile, Streetsblog reports that legislation inserted into Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2019 executive budget would allow municipalities to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters, which would appear to address a state law barrier the City currently faces with its own legalization efforts.
But cycling advocates say the legislation is deeply flawed: it requires e-bikers to be over 16 years old, wear reflective clothing and helmets, prohibits e-tricycles and children's seats, and gives motorists the right of way over e-bike cyclists, contradicting of current City law.
If @NYgovCuomo's misbegotten proposal to revamp right of way in NYC traffic was ever actually enacted, @NYCMayor's @NYC_DoT Chief @PollyTrott should use her well-established powers under Vehicle & Traffic Law 1642 (see 34 RCNY 4-02(e)) to instantly nullify it.
— Steve Vaccaro (@BicyclesOnly) January 18, 2019
The Governor's Office said that the proposed legislation was aimed at addressing the growing popularity of e-bike and e-scooters, and that it will be up for debate and potential changes in the coming months. They added that the portion that would require e-bikes to yield to motorists is identical to the state's Segway law from 2008.
In a statement, Councilmember Rafael Espinal, who is a co-sponsor of the legislation package to legalize e-scooters and e-bikes, said he was “encouraged" by the governor's actions.
"The rapid shift on this issue at the state level—especially on e-bikes—is a testament to the tireless work of advocates and activists, who have been so effective in bringing attention to the plight of our city’s delivery workers and the obstacles they face merely for doing their jobs," Espinal said.
A City Council hearing to discuss the bills is scheduled for January 23rd at 1 p.m.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson has said in the past that he has "concerns" about the legislation running afoul of state law, but that he is open to considering it.
A spokesperson for Johnson, Jacob Tugendrajch, told Gothamist that "the Speaker is deeply concerned with how enforcement of e-bikes disproportionately affects low-income delivery workers, who are largely immigrants, and is reviewing ways to mitigate the problem."
[UPDATE: 5:03 p.m.] Seth Stein, a spokesperson for the mayor, emails us this statement: “The Mayor has been clear that enforcement of this law should focus on businesses, not workers. That’s who the Police Department needs to be targeting.”