City Council Moves to Legalize Delivery Cyclists’ E-Bikes

HOST SCRIPT:

If you’ve ever placed an order on Seamless or Grubhub, chances are you’ve employed one of the 50,000 food delivery cyclists working in New York City. To make those deliveries, many are riding a bike that’s caused a lot of controversy. Delivery guys consider them essential, but many New Yorkers fear them on the street. Hannah Critchfield has more. 

 

CRITCHFIELD:

 

It’s 32 degrees on the Upper West Side. Miguel Flores is about to ride 46 blocks to deliver a bowl of noodles — Shrimp Marinara, to be exact.

 

He hops on his e-bike to take off.

 

20 minutes later, he knocks on the door, drops off the food, and gets a $4 tip.

 

Most delivery cyclists are recent immigrants — Miguel’s from Lima, Peru.

 

Almost all delivery cyclists’ income is from tips, not from the restaurants.

 

So they ride the fastest bike they can. They’re called throttle bikes — bikes with an electric motor– , they go 28mph, and they’re also illegal.

 

Steve Vaccaro’s a lawyer for bicyclist and pedestrian rights. He says the faster they go, the more money they make.

 

VACCARO:

 

[14:02] They’re not getting paid anything by the restaurant. So delivery customers are in fact incentivizing the delivery cyclists to cut corners by tipping them less when the food arrives cold or not as fast as they would like.

 

CRITCHFIELD:

 

With the rise of app-based delivery services, the number of cyclists using the e-bikes has exploded in the last few years. And with them, come rising safety concerns.

 

On Tuesday Mayor de Blasio held a press conference on Vision Zero and street safety, and particularly focused on the e-bikes.

 

DE BLASIO:

 

We’re going to be enforcing on anybody who think puts people in danger, period. So if an officer observes a cyclist doing something that they perceive as dangerous and illegal, of course they’re going to ticket them.

 

CRITCHFIELD:

 

The city penalties penalties are tough. Today, police can confiscate throttle bikes and fine cyclists up to $500.

 

It’s hard to say whether the bikes are actually a hazard for pedestrians, because the statistics are limited. To date, there have been no recorded deaths caused by an e-bike.

 

ALLON:

 

When you see these things whizzing by, it is understandable that some people are going to be a little nervous about them.

 

CRITCHFIELD:

 

That’s Jonah Allon, Press Secretary for Council Member Rafael Espinal, Jr. Espinal’s one of the sponsors of a bill package that’s hoping to address the problem.

 

The proposed legislation would legalize throttle bikes, but limit their speed up to 15mph. The city would also help subsidize the cost of converting the bikes to the new standards.

 

ALLON:

 

So establishing a conversion program that would assist people income bracket, a certain level below the poverty line, help them make sure that their motor is sort of in compliance with city and state traffic law.

 

CRITCHFIELD:

 

Back on the job, Miguel Flores drops off his last delivery of Italian food at 7pm. It’s been a slow day.

 

FLORES:


I hope this law passes, and I think it will. I hope the city and the mayor don’t cut off our legs, because prohibiting electric bikes is like cutting off our legs.

 

CRITCHFIELD:

 

He might not have to wait long. The sponsors hope to bring the e-bike legislation to vote by summer.

 

Hannah Critchfield, Columbia Radio News.

 

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