Queens Pol to NYPD: Stop Cracking Down on Delivery Workers While Albany Deals with Cuomo E-Bike Veto

Soon, you won't see this anymore: E-bikes are legal! Photo: Macartney Morris
Soon, you won't see this anymore: E-bikes are legal! Photo: Macartney Morris

A Queens City Council Member, disappointed that Gov. Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have legalized the electric bikes favored by delivery workers, is calling on the NYPD to stop confiscating the machines and “taking thousands of dollars in income-earning property from low-wage and tipped workers.”

Costa Constantinides. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Costa Constantinides

In a letter to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea on Thursday, Council Member Costa Constantinides pointed out that the governor has promised to work with the legislature to legalize the e-bikes on the first day of the new session, which begins on Wednesday, but it still may take weeks or months for a bill to pass, be signed and take effect.

In the meantime, ongoing police stings — which often result in $500 tickets and the seizure of the bikes — hurt some of the lowest-paid workers in the city, Constantinides wrote. The NYPD will not say how many bikes have been confiscated, but cops handed out more than 1,100 summonses last year, the NY Times recently reported.

“More often than not, these workers own their e-bikes and scooters, they are people of color and diverse backgrounds, and, most importantly, their vehicle is a means to a living and the American dream,” Constantinides said.

The council member saw an opening for the NYPD under its new commissioner. Bridge-building is a key part of community policing, after all.

“The NYPD has a real opportunity to gain trust with otherwise, and understandably, weary immigrant communities,” Constantinides continued. “There is no doubt e-bikes are here to stay, so it is on us as leaders to develop a plan for how they fit into our streetscape. Halting summonses and confiscations while the legislative process is worked out is a necessary first step.”

City Hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said Constantinides’s letter had been received — but its call for decriminalizing e-bikes as Albany fixes the problem would largely be ignored.

“We still believe that a state law is critical to regulating e-bikes and to keeping our streets safe,” she told Streetsblog.

The mayor’s office has long said its enforcement against illegal e-bikes — which get their electric boost by a hand-throttle, like a motorcycle, rather than by pedaling — focuses mainly on business owners, such as restaurants. But Constantinides isn’t buying it.

“A single 24-hour NYPD sting nearly three years ago confiscated almost 250 bikes, while my local precinct seized 11 in one sweep last January,” he said. There is ample evidence — in the form of frequent photos posted on Twitter and the mayor’s own insistence that e-bike-using workers are breaking the law — that the NYPD continues to crack down on the hard-working riders and not the businesses for whom they ride (usually as an independent contractor).

The mayor says he gets complaints from residents about e-bike riders, but data show that e-bike riders are not causing injuries on even a tiny scale. Besides, Constantinides disputed the mayor’s notion of community opposition, especially since the e-bike legalization bill passed the Senate and the Assembly with veto-proof majorities of 56-6 and 137-4, respectively.

“Public sentiment has rightly turned to legitimizing the vehicles, so I ask the [Police] Department allow them to operate as Albany sorts out how they will be legislated,” he said. “E-bikes and scooters acceptance in our streetscape is a foregone conclusion.”

He also pointed out that deliveries are surging, meaning that the NYPD needs to “remember the human story in this discussion.”

“Most of these drivers are immigrants who are working tirelessly to achieve that same American dream we all aspire to,” he said. “They ride exposed to the elements, whether in rain, snow, or otherwise, when we feel that it’s too arduous to walk a few blocks to get a burger.”

Constantinides isn’t the only person upset with Gov. Cuomo’s veto. The bill’s main sponsor, State Senator Jessica Ramos, penned an op-ed for BuzzFeed News, decrying his as the equivalent of “finding a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking — except the consequences will be much worse.”

“Not only will delivery workers continue to be criminalized, but New York City has missed the most immediate action we could take to prepare for congestion pricing,” Ramos wrote in the piece, co-bylined with Emil Skandul.

State Senator John Liu recently told Streetsblog that he thinks the legislature will re-pass the legislation that Cuomo vetoed, but is not certain that lawmakers will over-ride a new veto if Cuomo unsheathes his pen.

“When push comes to shove on a veto vote, votes change,” he said, adding that the governor wrongly cited safety as his reason for the veto.

“I believe it will be a priority for us to pass again,” Liu said. “Then we can see what excuse he’ll [Cuomo] hide behind [this time].”

Constantinides’s full letter is below.