Confronted By Delivery Workers, de Blasio Insists on E-Bike Crackdown

The mayor said fines on e-bikes are coming in January no matter what, but that workers riding pedal-assist bikes should not be targeted.

Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Mayor de Blasio at last night's town hall. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Mayor de Blasio at last night's town hall. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

Delivery workers came out to a town hall in Greenwood Heights last night to confront Mayor de Blasio about his administration’s crackdown on electric bicycles, which threatens their livelihoods. For the second time in a month, the mayor insisted that restaurant owners, not delivery workers, will bear the burden of enforcement, despite testimony from workers themselves that indicates otherwise.

Starting next month, NYPD will levy $100 and $200 fines on businesses that employ workers riding e-bikes. And police will continue to impound e-bikes, which typically belong to workers and not businesses. For those workers, the total cost of lost property and fines could upend their ability to earn a living.

A group of delivery workers based in Brooklyn and Manhattan came out to the town hall in the hopes that de Blasio will change course. De Quan Lu, who runs the Chinese Mutual Group, an organization for Fujianese delivery workers, asked the mayor about the status of the e-bike crackdown.

De Blasio said he sympathized with delivery workers afraid to lose their livelihoods but won’t adjust his plans. “I know a lot of hard working people, such as are represented here, have the electronic bicycles, have been using them as part of their work, and I do appreciate that it’s been important to their livelihood,” de Blasio said. “Everyone knows how congested our streets and our sidewalks are, and there’s been a number of incidents, unfortunately, that have made people feel very unsafe when the electric bikes are being used.”

De Blasio did not cite any specific incidents. The city has yet to substantiate the assertion that electric bikes pose a genuine public safety hazard, failing to provide any data.

The mayor also reiterated that business owners will receive citations, and that NYPD won’t levy fines on workers.

“We don’t want to see the little guy, the average working person, have to deal with the fines,” he said. “We do want to see the businesses stop using these electric bikes. They can still use cars, they can still use regular bicycles. There’s still ways to make deliveries and to keep people in their employment, but the electric bikes are not legal and are not safe.”

But that is not the reality facing delivery workers, most of whom are employed as independent contractors. NYPD said in October that independent contractors would have to pay fines themselves.

Later in the evening, Xiaodeng Chen, a Brooklyn College student and former delivery worker, asked for clarification about pedal-assist electric bikes, which he said NYPD has ticketed despite the mayor’s past assurances that they were permitted. The mayor said pedal-assist bikes should not be ticketed, and that he will make sure NYPD precincts understand that.

Sunset Park resident Clemente Martinez, 44, who attended last night’s town hall, uses an e-bike to deliver food in Williamsburg. Speaking through a translator, Martinez told Streetsblog he works 12-hour shifts, often traveling three miles to make a delivery. He has not had a single collision in 12 years delivering, and now worries he won’t be able to support his four children without access to an e-bike.

“Time goes forward, but we’re going backwards,” he said. “I won’t be able to make enough money to support my family. This is a problem, not just for me, but for other workers like myself.”

Martinez hopes to switch to a pedal-assist bike. Otherwise, he said, he’ll switch to an un-assisted bike and ask his employer to send him on shorter runs.

“I don’t think people have stopped working altogether, but everybody has been brainstorming about what exactly they’re going to do in January, whether that means switching over to regular bicycles or getting a new job entirely,” he said. “These bikes allow me to earn a better living, while making more wages, while not getting physically tired.”

Local Council Member Carlos Menchaca, who chairs the immigration committee, promised to hold the mayor to his word that businesses, not workers, would be penalized. He said workers’ experience with enforcement should shape any state-level discussions about e-bike legalization.

“Right now we’re talking about e-bikes, but that enforcement has had negative impacts to our immigrant communities,” Menchaca said. “That is something we are seeing, that we want to understand more, so we can actually shape the state-level changes.”

“We’re going to monitor that enforcement,” he added. “I want to make sure we go back to the workers to make sure [the mayor’s] promises are kept.”

After the town hall, Martinez, Chen, Le, and another delivery worker approached DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who said she wanted  to arrange a meeting with workers and the NYPD. She also said she would explore ways to equip workers with pedal-assist bikes.

The delivery workers are planning to rally at City Hall on Monday to protest the crackdown, in conjunction with the Asian American Federation, Transportation Alternatives, and the Biking Public Project. The protest starts at 10 a.m. on the building steps.