This morning, in a news conference on the City Hall steps, Council Member Jessica Lappin announced a new bill to double the fines on drivers of electric bikes, from the current $500 to a crushing $1000 per ticket. She said her office has been deluged with complaints about "the scourge" of these souped up delivery bikes, which can hit speeds of 30 mph. In a recent survey, a whopping 72% of her constituents said they'd "been hit or almost hit" by a delivery bike, and not surprisingly, about the same percentage favored increasing fines on electric bikes.
The Council Member said she was particularly concerned for elderly residents in her Upper East Side district, and quoted one of them as saying these electric bikes "converge on me from multiple directions." State Senator Liz Krueger was also on hand, and echoed the same concerns, asking, "Who will think of the mothers pushing carriages who are at risk for their lives?" David Pollack, from the Committee for Taxi Safety, went even further, calling the bikes "a menace to little children" and a "menace to society", and describing how he was nearly hit twice during a single walk outside this week.
Lappin admitted enforcement was a key problem: the NYPD doesn't break out electric bike tickets in their stats, so they can't say how many of the 48,556 bike tickets last year were even given to electric bike drivers. She said she'll be asking the police to break out the numbers in the future, and also said she's looking into reports that the bikes are still widely sold in bike stores around the city, despite the fact that selling electric bikes is also illegal under the current law.
Delivery men on bicycles have long been an unpopular group here in New York, despite their useful food-distributing capabilities. Often observed salmoning up streets the wrong way, riding on the sidewalks, and showing up a preposterous 45m late with our food, they are an easy group to vilify. However, their jobs aren't exactly easy: many of them are treated as independent contractors by the restaurants that employ them, which forces them to work punishing hours without health insurance or a minimum wage. We asked Councilmember Lappin if she was concerned that these heavier fines might be unfairly borne by the deliverymen, instead of the restaurants that employ them. She said she was concerned about the deliverymen, who she said were often immigrants unfamiliar with the law, and she said she had introduced a pending bill to require that the restaurants hire them as regular employees, but that until that is passed "everyone has to obey the law".
In 2004, the law that made these types of bikes illegal passed with wide support—even overcoming a veto from Mayor Bloomberg. Considering that delivery men haven't gotten any more popular since then, these new rules seem likely to pass as well. A spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg declined to comment on the proposed legislation because the bill has not yet been introduced.
Update: a note from Senator Krueger's office: "Sen. Krueger appreciates the point about fines being borne by deliverymen rather than their employers, which is why we're sponsoring legislation in Albany that would impose liability on the businesses for bicycle delivery workers' traffic violations. The senate version of the bill is S. 419D."