De Blasio’s E-Bike Confiscations May Violate City Law

The 19th Precinct shows off the loot.
The 19th Precinct shows off the loot.

Since Mayor de Blasio’s crackdown on working cyclists took effect, NYPD has boasted about confiscating delivery workers’ electric bikes. In their zeal to rid NYC of space-efficient, low-emissions vehicles, police appear to be snatching up bikes whether or not workers are using them — a practice that is arguably illegal.

Under an outmoded state law, e-bikes are illegal to ride, but legal to own. That’s why a confiscated bike must be returned when its owner pays a ticket.

City administrative code says an e-bike may be impounded if it “has been used or is being used.” At least twice in January, the 19th Precinct tweeted about sweeps targeting bikes that were apparently parked on Upper East Side sidewalks.

“The city law that makes most e-bikes illegal to operate in NYC only allows for them to be impounded if they have been used illegally,” says Transportation Alternatives Legislative and Legal Director Marco Conner. “That is, a police officer must have witnessed someone riding the e-bike or have other credible evidence that it has been operated.”

Ultimately it’s up to judges to interpret how the statute is being applied, said attorney Steve Vaccaro. “Straddling the e-bike, even without engine engaged, probably passes for ‘operation,’” he said. “I don’t think a judge would insist that the illegal feature actually be in operation in front of the cop for the seizure to take place.”

Whether NYPD is applying the law correctly or not, workers are unlikely to contest a ticket. “If I take the bike tonight, they go down to OATH, pay the $500 fine,” an official from the Upper West Side’s 20th Precinct told Community Board 7 last month. “They don’t ask to go to court, they don’t ask for a court date, they pay the $500 fine and we’re mandated to give them the bike back because that’s their property.”

So de Blasio and NYPD may continue to victimize working cyclists without much concern for the legality of these seizures — for the time being. A source tells Streetsblog that organizers are exploring the possibility of challenging the city’s e-bike seizures in court.