Despite assurances from Mayor Bill de Blasio that his e-bike crackdown wouldn't fall on the "little guy," and a City law that explicitly states that businesses who employ delivery cyclists who use illegal e-bikes are "liable" for their fines, the NYPD has continued to target working cyclists, many of whom are immigrants, and not the restaurants that rely on them.
As of September 23rd, the NYPD has issued 521 citations to e-bike riders this year, compared with 189 to businesses, according to the department. Each e-bike citation comes with the prospect of a $500 fine, and the bikes are often confiscated. The NYPD has taken 755 e-bikes this year so far, and has issued 1,099 moving violations to e-bike riders.
When a delivery cyclist pleads not guilty to a charge of riding an illegal e-bike under New York Administrative Code Section 19-176.2, they get a hearing date at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings [OATH]. Legal Aid attorney Steven Wasserman, who says he has represented "scores" of these cases this year, estimates that around 90 percent of the summonses get eventually get dismissed.
Records provided to Gothamist show that six of his cases last month involving illegal e-bikes were tossed by four different OATH hearing officers for various reasons; one decision notes that the defendant was clearly delivering food for a restaurant, cites the law that requires businesses to be held accountable, and concludes that "the summons should have been issued to the business and not the individual." A different OATH judge reached the same conclusion in another case that Wasserman represented this past August.
"I think the hearing officers talk to each other, and I think they're all collectively dismayed by the harshness of these tickets, directed at people that are just living day to day," Wasserman says. "And they're well aware of the profits that are being made by the food delivery services and the restaurants."
Wasserman says that the delivery cyclists are "treated as disposable labor."
"One guy loses his job, they take his bike away, there's another guy with another illegal bike to take his place. It's really exploitation, and [the hearing officers] don't like it, the truth of the matter is, if you give them something to hang their hat, on they'll throw these tickets out."
Wasserman added, "[The NYPD officers] don't even have to hand the citation to the restaurant, they can mail it, this is just regular rules of serving civil process."
Peter Donald, the NYPD's assistant commissioner for communication and public information, told Gothamist, "We don’t target anyone. We pursue those who break the law. Period."
Donald said that many delivery workers don't wear the required reflective vest that bear the name and address of their employers, or refuse to tell NYPD officers where they work, making it more difficult to cite businesses. (Asked if the officers couldn't just look at the plastic bags emblazoned with a restaurant's name and address, Donald said he'd check with the NYPD's Legal Bureau and get back to us.)
The NYPD does not separate crashes involving e-bikes from overall cycling collision data, but Donald pointed to gripes about e-bike riders on social media, and community board meetings on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side that are inundated with complaints about dangerous delivery cyclists on e-bikes.
"The police department is highly responsive to complaints from the community, whether it's trash on the sidewalk or loud noise from a club, and when people believe something's an issue, we look into it and we try to address it," Donald said. "That's our job."
The e-bike crackdown on throttle-based bicycles, which are illegal because they are in theory "capable of propelling the device without human power," continues as the city embraces modes of "pedal-assisted" electric-propelled transportation, which requires the user to pedal the bike.
The de Blasio administration has yet to provide any hard evidence that the throttle-based e-bikes have caused more injuries or are more of a public danger than the pedal-assisted e-bikes.
Citi Bike recently launched a few dozen pedal-assisted e-bikes in anticipation of the L train shutdown in April, when they will put 1,000 of the bikes into service to quickly move New Yorkers over the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan. On Wednesday morning, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams rode a Bird electric scooter, a device that is technically still illegal to ride on City streets.
I had an incredible commute this morning on a @BirdRide electric scooter from the Myrtle-Wyckoff station in #Bushwick to Grand Street in #Williamsburg with @TransAlt and @NBk_TA to highlight the importance of alternative sources of transit in preparation for the #LTrainShutdown. pic.twitter.com/fUJ4EqYGiU
— Eric Adams (@BPEricAdams) October 3, 2018
Councilmembers Raphael Espinal and Ydanis Rodriguez are drafting legislation that would authorize New Yorkers to ride the scooters, which have appeared in Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles with varying degrees of legality.
Espinal's office said that the bill will legalize both e-scooters and e-bikes, and that one of their goals is to resolve the vulnerability that immigrant delivery cyclists currently face, but that the language of the legislation is still being hammered out.
Wasserman says that if restaurants and delivery services like Seamless were paying the e-bike fines, "things would change a lot sooner."
"This is a very wealthy city, it would not really cost a lot to replace the fleet of throttle bikes with a fleet of pedal assisted bikes."