CYCLE OF RAGE: Mayor de Blasio’s War on Delivery Cyclists is Elitist and Betrays ‘Fairest City’ Boast

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

We are not the fairest city in America, as the mayor likes to boast, because the city is currently punishing its lowest-wage, most-exploited workers whose jobs only exist because rich people want them to exist.

Of course, I’m talking about delivery cyclists, who continue to be the subject of crackdowns by the de Blasio administration that deprive them of the tools of their trade — their e-bikes — while also hitting them with hundreds of dollars in summons that wipe away in seconds their wages for the week.

The crackdown is entirely orchestrated by the so-described progressive mayor — and on Wednesday, he defended the practice yet again in an exchange with Streetsblog.

Full disclosure: I actually like the mayor on a personal level. He has said many things about street safety and design that are 100 percent right. And I believe his commitment to Vision Zero, while occasionally wavering, is a legitimate one. I even believe he’s a progressive, in the sense that most of the time, he really wants the city to treat the less-fortunate with fairness and respect. But…

So why the hell is he waging an endless war against delivery bike workers? I had a perfect opening to answer that very question at a press conference on Wednesday after the mayor delivered a jeremiad against non-progressives and Amazon for “los[ing] touch with every-day working Americans.”

I asked, “You just mentioned working people, and I know you’re proud to say New York is “America’s fairest city” —

“Yes, sir,” the mayor said.

“Talk to me about this ongoing crackdown of delivery [and] working cyclists whose jobs exist entirely the wealthy, or office workers, want food relatively quickly and they what are illegal e-bikes in order to deliver that food, but they are also the lowest-paid workers in our society. Explain to me how you can justify and balance those two facts to call us America’s fairest city?”

The mayor started as he always does: “It’s a great question.”

Then he got to the gist of his crackdown:

There’s a lot of other ways to deliver food than something that’s outlawed. It’s outlawed, Gersh. It’s against state law. So, until it is legalized, I’m not going to be comfortable with it. … This is a particular example of something betwixt and between — faster than a traditional bike, but not regulated the way a motorcycle or a car would be regulated. We’ve got to make sense of that. It’s not good. And for all of the people out there who feel vulnerable crossing streets — and I’ve talked to a whole lot of them — they are not ideologically motivated, their speaking from their life experience. Obviously, a lot of folks who happen to be seniors, happen to be disabled, a lot of parents with kids are worried when they cross a street and they feel like there’s all sorts of different things going on, and they don’t know how to navigate it properly. So, the e-bikes — I think there are going to be potential solutions. I want there to be a solution — I want legalization that’s done right, I want a safety focus — the pedal-assist bikes are a good example of something that I think is safer – and I want to see working people treated fairly, including the folks who do those deliveries. In the meantime, they should do the deliveries, the companies that work with them should do the deliveries with other ways of making the deliveries. There has always been other ways of making deliveries, that’s what they should do right now. But we want to make sure that the folks who are doing the work are treated fairly, and that’s what we’re working with the Council on now, that’s what we’re working with the Legislature on.

Most of the above is complete garbage.

  • The massive expansion of food and retail deliveries is relatively new and the city — under this mayor — has not devised any plan for dealing with it, whether the problem is being committed by Fresh Direct trucks blocking our roadways or the challenges are being faced by delivery workers trying to do a job that rich people want done quickly.
  • The mayor has never released statistics to justify his alleged safety concerns — but continues to cite the “seniors” and “parents” who claim that they are worried more about cyclists than they are about the cars that killed 114 pedestrians last year and injured another 11,000. He says he “hears” from people “all the time” about their concerns. Check 311 — there are a lot more complaints on 311 about speeding drivers, five million of whom were caught breaking the law over the last five years by just 140 speed cameras operating only part of the day. There have been zero complaints about speeding cyclists over the past two years.
  • The mayor may “want” to see working people treated fairly, but he has done nothing to ease the plight of exploited workers, who are treated as independent contractors by restaurants and other food industry middlemen. The workers are the ones who are getting most of the tickets. The workers are the ones who are losing all of the e-bikes to NYPD crackdowns.
Marco Conner — unimpressed with mayoral "elitism." Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Marco Conner — unimpressed with mayoral “elitism.” Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

I asked Marco Conner of Transportation Alternatives if I was again over-reacting to the mayor’s continued war on our lowest-paid, most-exploited workers and he said, if anything, I was going easy on our future failed presidential candidate.

“It’s an elitist and totally detached mayor we are seeing on this issue and he just made that even clearer with these comments,” said Conner, the group’s interim co-executive director. “NYPD and the mayor have admitted that they are basing their crackdown on complaints and anecdotal stories. There is nothing data-driven about their enforcement and it has nothing to do with Vision Zero and saving lives. Mayor de Blasio was right to not pursue the city’s racist stop and frisk policy when he became mayor, but he is now re-creating one of New York City’s darkest legacies, this time against low-wage, immigrant workers in the so-called fairest big city.

So to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, Mr. de Blasio — tear up those tickets. Maybe then we can claim to be “America’s Fairest City.”

Gersh Kuntzman is editor-in-chief of Streetsblog. When he gets angry, he writes the Cycle of Rage column. They’re archived here.