E-bike crackdown in New York City spurs delivery worker concerns

Posted Dec 26, 2017 by Karen Graham
Like delivery robots in San Francisco, electric bike delivery drivers in New York City are now being targeted by city officials who claim they are a menace to pedestrians and drivers. Starting in 2018, a crackdown on the zippy bikes will take place.
An electric bicycle chained on West 34th Street  Manhattan.
An electric bicycle chained on West 34th Street, Manhattan.
City dwellers in San Francisco, after issues with delivery robots clogging the sidewalks, pushed city officials to pass strict regulations in early December to reduce the number of delivery robots to three per company.
Now, city dwellers in New York City are having the same complaints, except this time it's the delivery workers using e-bikes — bicycles modified to be powered by electricity. The e-bikes look similar to regular bicycles but have motors that can propel them to 20 mph or more, depending on the model.
E-bikes have proven to be very popular with the legions of delivery people who work for restaurants, many of whom are poor immigrants. Under the current city law, the bikes are legal to own and sell, but riding them on the street can lead to a fine of up to $500.
A well disguised e-bike  comes with a bottle shaped battery.
A well disguised e-bike, comes with a bottle shaped battery.
So this means the bikes must be ridden on the sidewalks. But in order to make enough money, delivery drivers must be fast and efficient, and this is where a bicycle speeding down the sidewalk at 20 mph can be a menace, especially if a driver is not careful.
Restaurants also require their delivery drivers to provide their own transportation and make them responsible for any fines they happen to receive while working. So an investment in an electric bike can be expensive to someone at the bottom of the economic scale.
The new law according to Mayor de Blasio
Starting in 2018, businesses that have employees that use e-bikes are also subject to a fine of $100 for a first offense and $200 for each subsequent offense, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Electric bikes are illegal to operate on city streets and those at the top of the food chain need to be held accountable,” city spokesman Austin Finan said. “Instead of merely targeting riders, we’re going after businesses that look the other way and leave their workers to shoulder the fine.”
And while many New Yorkers are going to be delighted that the e-bikes are off the sidewalks, there will be some hard feelings. Cycling advocacy groups have challenged the city to produce data showing whether the e-bikes pose any unusual danger, compared to other vehicles.
"In the realm of enforcement, data needs to be the impetus," said Caroline Samponaro, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy organization. "I don't think enforcement is the solution to the problem we're trying to solve."