Mon 25 Dec ‘17 17.37 GMT
Cheap, electric bicycles have made life a lot easier for New York City’s legions of restaurant delivery workers, but the party may be over in the New Year.
City officials are promising a crackdown on e-bikes, which may be loved by environmentalists and the often poor, immigrant workforce that relies on them, but are loathed by many drivers and pedestrians who think they are a menace.
Under 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. Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this fall that starting in 2018, businesses that have employees use the bikes are also subject to a fine of $100 for a first offense and $200 for each subsequent offense.
“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.”
That policy will undoubtedly prove popular with many New Yorkers who have complained that the bikes, which look and handle just like regular bicycles but can reach speeds of 20 mph or more, and sometimes are operated recklessly.
Lots of people have stories about close calls where they stepped out into the street, only to nearly be hit by a quick-moving bike they couldn’t hear coming.
But it will be bad news for deliverymen like Clemente Martinez, who spends up to 12 hours a day in the saddle, often in lousy weather.
“It’s not fair because people like me do depend on them,” said Martinez through a translator. The 44-year-old from Puebla, Mexico, came to the United States almost 15 years ago and has been working as a delivery person almost all that time, buying his electric bicycle almost three years ago. “We’re using this as something that lets us work and support our families.”
The bikes make a tremendous difference for the delivery workforce, said Do Lee, a PhD candidate who studied delivery workers for his dissertation and advocates for them. Many of the workers are middle-aged or even older, working for hours and putting in a significant number of miles to meet the demand for food and other items to be delivered quickly. “They couldn’t do their jobs without electric bikes,” he said. Advocates for alternate forms of transportation say the crackdown also doesn’t make sense from an environmental or safety perspective.