Newly elected City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is voicing some apprehension about Mayor de Blasio’s plan to crack down on illegal electric bicycles.
In response to complaints, the mayor announced this October that police would begin ramping up enforcement against the bicycles, which generally look no different than an average bike, save for a visible battery pack attached to the frame, beginning Jan. 1 of this year.
Johnson, who represents a swath of Manhattan’s west side, said he hears constituents’ complaints about e-bike riders. But Johnson noted he is also concerned about how the crackdown would affect those riders — typically immigrants working long hours for low pay.
“I feel a little split on the e-bike issue because I want to protect the immigrants who are using the e-bikes, while at the same time ensuring that New Yorkers feel safe,” Johnson said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show Monday morning.
Rules around e-bikes are muddy. The federal government allows the bikes to be sold, but it is illegal to ride them on New York streets. However, a certain type of e-bike that is powered not by a throttle, but by pedaling, is legal.
Police seized 994 bikes and issued a total of 1,721 summonses to riders, as of Dec. 18, 2017. About half of those summonses — 829 — were for moving violations.
De Blasio aims to increase the number of civil summonses issued to e-bike riders’ employees. But Johnson said that plan could still put the burden on the workers, who have argued that they need the extra boost from a motor to ride long enough to make a living wage.
“I think there is a concern that if you fine the restaurants, the business, they’re going to pass that fine along to their employees,” Johnson said. “So ultimately it is going to hurt these low-income immigrants, who are already in a precarious financial situation.”
At the same time, Johnson said that cyclists must obey the rules of the road.
“I’m not here to villainize people who use bikes or e-bikes across the city. I think it’s better…to get people out of cars and do things that are more environmentally friendly,” he continued, adding that “cyclists need to obey the law as well. They need to not drive on sidewalks; they need to obey traffic signals; they need to not go against traffic to ensure that pedestrians feel safe.”
Austin Finan, a mayoral spokesman, stressed that the bikes are illegal.
“The law prohibits the operation of e-bikes on city streets and this crackdown is about enforcing that law,” Finan said in a statement. “Instead of going after workers, we’re holding accountable those businesses that profit from the illegal use of these bikes. If these fines should fall to any worker, that worker is encouraged to file a formal complaint with the NYPD and the Department of Consumer Affairs.”