Delivery Workers Say de Blasio’s Proposed E-Bike Rules Won’t Help Them

The de Blasio administration wants to clarify language permitting pedal-assist e-bikes, which most delivery workers don't use.

Delivery workers rallying outside City Hall this morning. Photo copyright Scott Heins, used with permission.
Delivery workers rallying outside City Hall this morning. Photo copyright Scott Heins, used with permission.

In case it isn’t obvious by now: Mayor de Blasio should have talked with delivery workers about electric bikes rather than declaring war on them.

The city’s proposal to permit pedal-assisted e-bikes on city streets doesn’t go far enough to protect delivery workers, according to a coalition of workers, advocacy groups, and elected officials that rallied outside City Hall today.

Later this month, DOT will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to city rules that would allow pedal-assist bikes that were “equipped at manufacture” [PDF]. Unlike throttle-powered bikes, pedal-assist bikes aren’t specifically prohibited by law. The rule change would in essence serve to clarify existing regulations.

The issue is that most delivery workers use “combination bikes,” which can be operated by throttle alone. And if DIY conversions are prohibited, as they are in the proposed rule language, workers will have to buy new bikes.

“Over many years, the city has criminalized our work, even though these bikes are necessary for us to do our work,” said Make the Road member Pedro Rojas through a translator. Rojas works more than 70 hours per week delivering food on an e-bike.

“This new policy is unfair,” said Rojas. “The city is going to permit only some electric bikes, but not the ones that we, the workers, use.”

Due to a flaw in state law, the e-bikes most delivery workers use are legal to own, but illegal to ride on public streets. Mayor de Blasio’s crackdown, which began in January after months of heightened NYPD enforcement, has already hit Rojas and fellow working cyclists with heavy fines, confiscations, and lost wages.

Without the city’s support to convert their bikes to pedal-assist, delivery workers say they’ll continue to face burdensome enforcement.

“Our bosses don’t let us do this work without e-bikes,” said Clemente Martinez, who also spoke through a translator. “The city needs to find way for us to keep our bikes, in which we’ve invested a lot of money, through the process of legalization. We’re asking the city to support us and not leave us behind.”

To do that, the Justice Delivered Coalition — comprised of Make the Road, Transportation Alternatives, Asian American Federation, and others — wants DOT to amend the proposed rule to allow workers to convert bikes to pedal-assist. The requirement that bikes be labeled as pedal-assist from the factory should be eliminated, the coalition says, and perhaps replaced by a city decal indicating a bike has been properly converted.

“We want to make sure that they can afford to convert their e-bikes,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “We want to make sure that they reach compliance, and make sure that they can continue to make a living, to support their family, without the fear of being arrested, getting all these punitive fines, and getting their bike confiscated.”

The city has yet to provide data demonstrating that e-bike riders pose a significant threat to public safety, which was the purported impetus for de Blasio’s crackdown.

Upper West Side council rep Helen Rosenthal, who stood alongside the mayor when he announced the e-bike crackdown last October, spoke at the rally, calling the coalition proposals “common sense.”

“While I appreciate [the mayor’s] moving quickly on what is an issue on some communities,” said Rosenthal, “he needed to take the time to understand the common sense impact that this would have on the delivery workers themselves.”

The DOT rule change hearing is scheduled for May 29.