Mayor Bill de Blasio believes the NYPD's crackdown on illegal e-bikes should be targeting businesses, not the delivery cyclists themselves. The NYPD believes this too, according to a memo they sent to every uniformed officer last fall. Yet police officers continue to fine the cyclists $500 and confiscate their e-bikes, and when judges toss those penalties out, the NYPD's Legal Bureau appeals them anyway. Now, a Legal Aid attorney is filing a lawsuit to ask a judge to direct the NYPD and the de Blasio administration to follow the law and stop penalizing workers who use e-bikes.
City law states that "a business using a bicycle for commercial purposes shall be liable" for e-bike fines incurred by their workers, a fact the NYPD pointed out in their patrol guide memo from November 20th, 2018. If an officer stops a worker using an illegal, throttle-based e-bike, that officer is supposed to find the address of the cyclist's employer and "respond to business location if within a reasonable distance." Failing that, the memo allows the officer to mail the business a citation. (Cyclists are still personally responsible for other citations they receive for riding illegally.)
"I thought that this issue was pretty much resolved when the NYPD had changed their regulations, but then there were a couple of precincts where they continued to serve the bicyclists," said Steven Wasserman, the Legal Aid attorney who frequently represents delivery cyclists.
"We just want them to stop torturing the food delivery workers," Wasserman added.
In at least four cases, when judges have tossed out e-bike citations against riders, on the basis that the NYPD should have ticketed their employers, the NYPD has appealed and won. Three of those cases occurred in the 10th Precinct in Chelsea.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment, or for the most recent data concerning e-bike citations and seizures. In late January, the NYPD's Chief of Transportation, Thomas Chan testified 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.
A recent Streetsblog report featuring data collected by the Biking Public Project showed that just 31 of the reported 45,775 motor vehicle collisions in 2018 involved e-bikes.
“There’s plenty of evidence of them being used in a manner that’s reckless, that doesn’t conform to the way all the other types of transportation work,” de Blasio said when confronted with the stats. “This has been, to me, the mode of transportation where we’ve seen a lot of recklessness, a lot of going the wrong way down the street, a lot of speed at levels they shouldn’t be for very closely packed areas—it’s a problem. I’m just not going to stop saying I think it’s a safety problem, and a lot of my constituents think it’s a safety problem.”
The City has not yet been served with Wasserman's lawsuit. Asked if he is still seeing cases where the NYPD is ticketing individual delivery cyclists, Wasserman replied, "I have one coming in next Monday."