The city’s police department is going against its own rules in cracking down on illegal e-bikes popular among delivery workers, according to a new lawsuit filed Monday.
The suit, filed by the Legal Aid Society in state Supreme Court, claims that the NYPD is erroneously dishing out $500 fines to workers using the bikes when the department should, by law, be ticketing their place of employment.
“This is a very oppressive situation. Very few of these workers have $500, and their bikes are confiscated and they lose their livelihood until the $500 is paid,” said Steven Wasserman, the staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society.
The Legal Aid Society brought the complaint against the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) and the NYPD on behalf of a delivery worker ticketed while on the job in November. The action challenges an OATH decision earlier this year that police can issue summonses to the workers, arguing that the city’s own administrative code reads otherwise.
The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The policy to target businesses was created to shift responsibility away from the delivery workers who log long hours for physically-demanding, low-wage jobs. The throttle e-bikes, which are powered by a battery and small motor, make it easier to get around the city and can help workers continue on the job as they get older, some have told amNewYork.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio has called the bikes dangerous and has criticized workers for not following the rules of the road. He has pushed for a police crackdown against the bikes — even though the city’s own data found them to be the cause of just .05% of the 61,939 reported traffic injuries on city streets last year, according to a recent analysis from advocates.
“We’ve got a class of … e-bikes that go way too fast, where there’s plenty of evidence of them being used in a manner that’s reckless, that doesn’t conform to the way all the other types of transportation work,” de Blasio said last month, after the analysis made news.
The mayor’s crackdown also came as the city clarified its own laws to permit the use of a different type of pedal-powered e-bike, known as a pedal-assist bicycle. The clarification allowed for larger bike share companies to roll out pedal-assist e-bikes while delivery workers’ rides remained illegal.
There have been several attempts at the city and state levels to legalize or convert the throttled e-bikes, which are already legal in states like California and Massachusetts. In the meantime, Wasserman said the policing can be especially fraught for immigrants working in the city without documentation — another point that has maddened advocates, especially in light of de Blasio’s championing himself as a proud mayor of a sanctuary city.
“It’s not just losing their bikes — some of them can wind up in immigration procedures through these encounters,” said Wasserman.
“The long-term problem is that we got to get the food delivery workers on legal bikes so that they can do their work in peace,” he added. “This is really kind of a stop gap, done in a humanitarian spirit. The ultimate reform is going to have to come from City Council or State Legislature.”