Hundreds of Delivery Workers Rally Against de Blasio’s E-Bike Crackdown

The workers, many of them immigrants, fear that fines and lost wages will put them out of work.

Delivery worker Liqiang Liu speaking on the steps of City Hall. Photo: David Meyer
Delivery worker Liqiang Liu speaking on the steps of City Hall. Photo: David Meyer

More than 200 people, mostly delivery workers, took to the steps of City Hall this morning to call on Mayor de Blasio to nix a police crackdown on electric bicycles planned to begin next month. The workers rely on e-bikes to do their jobs and worry that NYPD enforcement could put them out of work and thousands of dollars in debt.

“I ride about 60 miles per day, with a base salary of $48 per day,” said Liqiang Liu, 45, through a translator. Liu said he’s been delivering food in the city for seven years. “I cannot rest, no matter how bad the weather is or how my health suffers, so I keep delivering food on New York streets. Electric bikes are our tool for survival.”

NYPD has increased enforcement against e-bikes in response to 311 complaints. In October, Mayor de Blasio announced that NYPD will levy $100 and $200 fines on businesses that employ workers riding e-bikes.

But most delivery people work as independent contractors, who will have to pay the fines themselves, according to NYPD. The bikes are legal to own, but not to operate on city streets. Police have the legal authority to confiscate the bikes, which typically belong to workers and not employers, and slap riders with fines.

Liu said police have stopped him and confiscated his bike three times this year. The bikes cost $1,800 to purchase and another $100 a month to maintain. The explicit fines are often just a fraction of the total cost workers absorb, Liu said, once you factor in lost wages.

“Every time we are stopped by police, we [lose] more than $1,000,” Liu said. “[This year] I have lost more than $3,000.”

“This is the only source of income that we have,” said Pedro, another delivery worker, who spoke in Spanish through a translator. “This policy is very hard for us. Without this job, I can’t support my family.”

Participants at the rally made four demands: that the city halt all enforcement against delivery workers; create a set of best practices for delivery workers to follow; build policies in direct consultation with workers; and push for state-level legislation to safely integrate e-bike into city streets.

“Many workers are older, and cannot speak English well, so if they lose their delivery job, there are no other decent options,” Liu said. “Improving traffic safety in New York City is also a common aspiration for delivery workers. I hope that the mayor can come to our community to learn more, to show compassion for our community, and to work with us to develop a reasonable standard for e-bike delivery workers.”

Mayor de Blasio has said the crackdown is in response to “a number of incidents” that have “made people feel very unsafe,” but the city has not provided any data to support the assertion that e-bikes pose a genuine safety hazard.

“Police resources must be spent on known dangers, and while people’s fear of e-bikes that may zoom by should be acknowledged and addressed, what we know is that last year, nearly 60,000 people were injured in traffic, and 231 people were killed by motor vehicles,” said Marco Conner, Transportation Alternatives’ legislative and legal director. “Not a single one of those deaths — not one — was caused by a person on a traditional bike or an e-bike.”

Council Member Margaret Chin and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou were the two elected officials at the rally, which was organized by Asian American Federation, the Biking Public Project, and TransAlt.

“There is no question that a critical component of public safety is the trust between our government and the diverse communities that call this city home,” said Chin, who represents Chinatown and Lower Manhattan. Her office surveyed delivery workers and found that most of them are in their forties and fifties, work at least eight hours a day, and have to travel as many as 30 blocks to make a single delivery.

“Many of them, especially those that speak limited English, have little to no understanding of state and city regulation on e-bikes, while still having to bear the devastating and disproportionate consequences of increased enforcement,” Chin said.

Niou said more and more delivery workers have approached her office for support since the crackdown was announced. “Many of them have felt that they don’t have a voice in the conversation about the future of their profession and electric bikes in New York City,” she said. “Many of them feel like even though this policy will directly impact them, they don’t get to oppose it or speak out against it. I want those folks to know that we’re listening, that we hear their concerns, and we are attentive to their hardships.”