SMALL VICTORY? NYPD Says It Has Changed E-Bike Crackdown to Focus on ‘Unsafe’ Riding

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

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The NYPD claimed on Friday that it has shifted its policy away from punishing delivery workers simply for using e-bikes, finally responding to complaints from progressives — and Gov. Cuomo — about Mayor de Blasio’s unconscionable crackdown on the city’s lowest-paid, most-exploited workers.

One day after the governor lambasted the NYPD’s “arbitrary” enforcement against workers who must use electric bikes to make a living, Transportation Bureau Chief William Morris told Streetsblog that cops have in fact shifted their policy away from punishing the mere mode of transportation to focus on enforcing unsafe operation of said vehicles.

Mayor de Blasio (with his Police Commissioner Dermot Shea) defended his crackdowon on delivery workers. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea (right with his boss) continues to defend his crackdown on delivery workers. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Morris said that in 2019, cops wrote 1,123 tickets against e-bike riders for using an illegal e-bike, down from 1,321, or 15 percent, from the previous year. And over the same period, cops wrote 27 percent more tickets for specific violations of vehicular law, such as dangerous driving or speeding, he said. (NYPD did not provide raw numbers for the VTL summonses.)

“So you can see that our enforcement strategies have changed, balancing the needs of the community versus the needs of the e-bike riders,” Morris said. “So instead of focusing on the mere possession of the e-bike itself, we’re focusing more on [dangerous] utilization. That way we can address the concerns of the community regarding the operation of them and still address the concerns of the people who use these bikes to earn a living.”

That said, the NYPD is still writing almost all of its tickets to the delivery workers themselves, and not their employers, despite the mayor’s insistence that the crackdown would target the bosses. On Thursday, Gothamist reported that only employers received only 71 of the 1,123 illegal e-bike tickets, or just 6 percent.

As such, advocates for delivery workers were unimpressed.

It “sounds like a slight altering of tactics to enforcement, but enforcement nonetheless,” said Helen Ho of the Biking Public Project.

Streetsblog had also asked Morris about why the NYPD — which prides itself on its technological sophistication — can’t figure out how to properly carry out the mayor’s directive to catch the big fish, not the small fry.

“There’s an operational challenge,” he said. “When that law went into effect to hold the businesses responsible, I don’t think it foresaw the development of the app world. E-bike riders [are] functioning as independent contractors operating for multiple places at a time. So it’s an operational impossibility at the moment of the issuance of the summons to determine which of, say, those five establishments that person is working for at that moment. … This is a consequence of the development of the app.”

The NYPD could simply suspend its admittedly unfair and technologically inept crackdown in light of the fact that Gov. Cuomo believes his e-bike legislation will pass in weeks if not days — as several local elected officials have demanded — but Morris demurred.

“We’re trying to balance the concerns of two communities: the community represented by the person performing the delivery and the community that’s concerned about the safe operation of these vehicles,” he said.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, who inherited de Blasio’s crackdown from former Commissioner James O’Neill, also said that the NYPD enforcement effort is entirely driven by “respect the rights of people who walk around.” The comments made Shea and Morris the latest officials to cite a safety concern about e-bikes without presenting any evidence that the bikes are any more dangerous than other two-wheeled vehicles.

The evidence simply does not exist. As Streetsblog reported last year, e-bike riders were responsible for just nine of the more than 11,000 pedestrians who were injured in crashes in 2018.

Nonetheless, Shea disagreed with Cuomo’s criticism that the crackdown is “arbitrary.”

“We try to balance the enforcement that we do, whether it’s bicycles or vehicles,” Shea said. “So I would disagree with that characterization.”