Cuomo: NYPD Crackdown on E-Bike Riders is ‘Arbitrary’; Would Consider ‘Car Helmets’

File photo: Kevin Coughlin / Governor's Office
File photo: Kevin Coughlin / Governor's Office

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Mayor de Blasio’s crackdown on e-bike-riding delivery workers is “arbitrary,” confusing and continues to target “the least-powerful” people in our society, Gov. Cuomo said Wednesday as he pitched a legalization bill that the legislature appears poised to pass quickly.

The governor’s proposal would legalize all types of electrified bikes, including pedal-assist bikes that are currently legal in New York City, as well as two types of throttle-controlled electric bikes preferred by delivery workers. Those bikes would be capped at 20 and 25 miles per hour. Users of the fastest bikes would be required to wear helmets — as delivery workers already do.

The bill, revealed by Streetsblog earlier this week, would lead to the end of the NYPD’s ongoing crackdowns on delivery workers, which leaves them subject to $500 fines — roughly a week’s wages — and confiscation of the tool of their trade, which is a major hit.

“Immigrant delivery workers … have been subjected to arbitrary enforcement given the vagaries of the laws and regulations,” Cuomo said. “And it has posed substantial hardships on many delivery workers, who are in the least-powerful position to deal with this. There have been confiscations. There have been fines. And it has placed an undue burden on these members of our society for too long.”

Under questioning, the governor switched to the second person singular to criticize de Blasio’s crackdown.

“I don’t know how you’re enforcing it,” Cuomo said. “You don’t have any laws. And it’s subject to interpretation, which is why people feel it’s arbitrary. There’s no uniformity because there’s not been a legal framework. Now we [will] have it.

The governor added he thinks the bill could “pass next week,” so he stopped short of calling for a crackdown backdown — as other pols have — because he thinks the “dire situation” of confiscations and fines to the poorest workers will be over soon. (State Senator Jessica Ramos, who has championed e-bike legalization, did not immediately respond.)

The comments came as Cuomo fully unveiled the outlines of his proposal, flanked by the leaders of Transportation Alternatives and the Asian-American Foundation, which have long called for action. The governor’s office was crowded with delivery workers, who also support the proposal to legalize their bikes.

Also on hand were representatives of several e-scooter companies, which are eager to set up scooter-share programs, though the final bill may initially keep scooters out of Manhattan. The companies would test their services in areas where riders would be expected to use the micromobility devices to get to subways. They will be capped at 15 miles per hour.

“One thing is clear,” the governor said. “We need an alternative to automobiles driving in New York City. The volume is paralyzing. The cost is prohibitive. It is environmentally destructive. … Congestion pricing is going to accelerate the transition to other transportation alternatives. … E-bikes and e-scooters pose exciting potential.”

One reporter from the car-friendly WCBS2 News asked Cuomo why he did not mandate helmets for all bike riders, but the governor brushed off the question, saying only that other bikes don’t go as fast as the fastest electric bikes, which have the helmet mandate.

Studies also show that bike helmet mandates reduce ridership, which lessens the strength-in-numbers effect that has been shown to increase bicyclist safety. Also, helmet use is very low in Europe, where bike fatality rates are also very low.

Following the WCBS question, Streetsblog asked the governor if he might consider helmet mandates for car drivers, given that vast numbers of car drivers who in fatal crashes die as a result of head trauma, as opposed to bicyclists, who are often killed in ways that would render a helmet useless.

“I’m thinking,” the governor said after a long pause. “I don’t know enough. I’d like to see the data.”

Roughly 650 people were killed inside automobiles last year in New York State, the majority from head trauma, studies show.

In the past, Mayor de Blasio has defended the NYPD crackdown on the grounds that throttle-controlled electric bikes are not technically legal. He has also claimed they are a safety issue when, the city’s own statistics show, they are not.

After initial publication of this story, City Hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie replied, though she declined to directly address the governor’s comments, saying, “We’re glad that the state is working to provide clarity on this complex, regulatory matter. Our top priority is the safety of everyone on our roads, and we are reviewing this legislation to determine our next steps.”