Why Are E-Bikes Legal For Amazon, But Not Immigrant Delivery Cyclists? – Gothamist

Delivery cyclist Dong Shixiang, delivering food on his e-bike last year
Earlier this week, the city's Department of Transportation announced that Amazon, UPS, and DHL would start using electric cargo bikes to reduce congestion on city streets. Like the pedal-assisted electric Citi Bikes before them (that are currently on hiatus), these "pedal-assist" e-bikes are street legal thanks to a technicality carved out for e-bikes powered by the rider's feet.
Revel has placed more than 1,000 electric mopeds on the streets of Brooklyn without legal problems. On the other hand, the kind of e-bikes that are powered by a throttle or button on the handlebars that are favored by the city's tens of thousands of immigrant delivery workers, remain illegal. Those delivery workers are still subject to $500 fines, and seizure of their bicycles.
"We would like for these policies to be fair and to include food delivery workers," Helen Ho, of the Biking Public Project, told reporters on Friday morning. Ho was at a press conference calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that passed the state legislature six months ago, legalizing all forms of e-bikes and e-scooters. The legislation caps their speeds at 25 and 20 mph, respectively, and prohibits anyone under the age of 16 from using them.
Cuomo has still not signed the legislation, and has publicly suggested that it would be unsafe. The governor has until the end of the year to sign the legislation, and it would need to be passed again in the 2020 session if he neglects to sign it.
“I have heard a number of concerns from safety advocates who don’t believe we should allow scooters, e-bikes on sidewalks with pedestrians,” Cuomo said shortly after the bill was passed. (The legislation prohibits the operation of these vehicles on sidewalks, and commercial delivery cyclists working in the city are already required to wear helmets.)
There is no data that suggests that throttle e-bikes are more dangerous than pedal-assisted e-bikes, or that e-bikes in general are more dangerous than regular bicycles.
"We have more than 200 bills left, down from more than 900 at the end of session," Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi wrote in an email, when asked about the delay. "It's our responsibility to ensure that whatever is signed into law is responsible, well drafted and actually accomplishes what it says it will do. It remains under review by Counsel's Office."
Meanwhile, it appears that there is already confusion with one of the cargo bikes used by UPS in the pilot program, because it also uses a throttle in addition to being pedal-assisted. (All of the cargo bikes' speeds are capped at 12 mph. For comparison, Citi Bike's pedal-assisted bikes are capped at 20 mph.)
The bike demoed by UPS yesterday is pedal assist and has a throttle that activates the boost. Many delivery workers have bikes with the same function, and cops often seize them.
DHL spokesperson Bea Garcia said their cargo bikes are considered pedal-assist. "Meaning that the carrier will have to still pedal, but the electric power assist will engage (through a set of little buttons on the handle bars activated by the carrier) to help depending on terrain, payload, etc," Garcia wrote in an email, adding that the top speed of the machines in 16 mph.
"Our NYC cargo bikes are powered by pedaling with an electric assist option," UPS spokesperson Kristen Petrella writes in an email.
Amazon has not yet responded to our request for comment. We've asked the Mayor's Office if Mayor Bill de Blasio is asking Governor Cuomo to sign the bill, but have not yet received a response.
State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Nily Rozic, both from Queens, co-sponsored the e-bike/e-scooter legislation. Their offices also have not responded to us.
"The people who are getting killed on New York City Streets are not getting killed by people riding bikes or e-bikes. They're getting killed by large trucks and cars every single day," Marco Conner, the co-deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, said at the press conference. "Trucks operating illegally in New York City, off-route, unlicensed, do not get this kind of enforcement, yet they are the cause for people getting killed on the street."
De Quan Lu, the president of the Chinese Mutual Support Labor Union, and a former delivery worker, said he was calling on delivery workers to attend a rally in Corona Park on December 13th. (Conner said that more details on the rally were forthcoming.)
"I don't understand why the governor doesn't sign the bill," Lu said through a translator. "We will keep fighting until he signs the bill."
[UPDATE / 5:45 p.m.] In an email, Freddi Goldstein, the press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, writes, "We encourage the governor to sign the bill, which gives each locality the ability to create rules to ensure safe streets."
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