Electric Bike Ban Roils Restaurant Workers

Thursday, March 13, 2014

If you've ordered Chinese food delivery recently, chances are it arrived on an electric bike.

The motorized bicycles are as much a part of the city landscape as pigeons and pushcarts. And any given evening, delivery workers can be found zipping up and down New York City streets on them, with their cargoes of hot food.

But while adults cannot ride regular bikes on sidewalks
, electric bikes are also illegal on streets and in bike lanes. Critics say the bikes are a menace, especially because their owners often ride them on sidewalks, and the motors are too quiet for pedestrians to hear when the bikes come up from behind.

The bikes are thickest in neighborhoods where residents order a lot of food delivery, such as Manhattan's Upper East and West Sides. Most of the bikes look just like regular, banged-up mountain bikes, except for a metal box on the frame holding the motor.

"I know they've got a job to do, but they don't follow the traffic rules, they just go any which way, you know what I mean?" said Vito Eschevarria as he was walking on the Upper West Side one recent frigid evening, while electric bikes sped by silently on the street. "And a number of times they come close — or actually do — run down pedestrians. It happens."

The New York Police Department does not break out electric bike accidents in its collision data, so it is hard to determine how much of a danger they actually pose.

The laws around the bike have been confusing over the last few years. The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles does not register electric bikes because it says they are not vehicles. While the state does allow some motor vehicles to operate without being registered, they do so only if the vehicles cannot go faster than 15 miles an hour. But since there is no way to know by looking at a bike how fast it can go, enforcement was formerly lax.

Then last spring, the New York City Council passed laws that made all unregistered motorized bikes illegal, no matter how fast they moved. It also made businesses liable for letting workers use the bikes. The ban went into effect in November.

The Chinese Staff and Worker's Association, a labor rights group, is gathering signatures on a petition to repeal the law. One of its organizers, Jei Fong, said the bikes help delivery workers do a physically demanding job, particularly older workers and those who have been hurt on the job.

52-year-old Jason Shi has delivered food since he arrived in New York from Shanghai six years ago. For him, an electric bike allowed him to work two jobs — clocking 60 hours a week, and earning about $4,000 a month. After the ban went into effect in November, he switched to a regular bicycle. But exhaustion forced him to drop one of his jobs. Now he earns just less than half of what he did before.

"We are not a criminal," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "We just do delivery work on the street."


Matthew Schuerman


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Comments [22]

George from Queens New York

I keep reading ebikes on sidewalks going thru lights and stop signs but I was hit by a regular cyclelist riding the wrong way and went thru red light my foot was hit and I still have pain. Not just e bikes but regular bikes are wrong too. I kick cyclrlists off their bikes when on sidewalk running stop signs and lights. More regular bike orders break the law then e bikes riders. I have regular bike with peddle assist control I follow all laws of the road. I can't peddle a regular bicycle but have no problem with peddle assist.
I believe the government don't want electric bikes because we don't use gas.
Gas company losing money.

Jul. 02 2014 05:29 PM
fast electric bike from United Kingdom

We also stock fast electric bikes (over 15 mph) for off-road electric thrills, such as the exhilarating Hero Eco A2B Metro and the Boss system.

May. 27 2014 11:27 AM
Electric Bikes York from united kingdom

We also undertake electric bike conversions and ebike custom builds for all needs. We're independent, and try to offer the BIGGEST range of bikes in the business. So having sorted the best from the rest if we don't sell a certain brand of new ebike... there will be a very good reason.

May. 27 2014 08:41 AM
J from Bronx

I own an electric bike and I'm not a delivery man. It is a great way to commute to and from work. Problems with delivery men not knowing traffic laws is the problem and we ban all electric bikes. The drivers are the problem not the bikes. With this logic, we must ban all cars from all the speeding, drunk driving, and running a red light and many more traffic related issues with cars. Using an E bike i can actually stay in the lane and be able to keep up with the flow of traffic especially when we are stopped at a red light. We get pushed to the right and get side swiped which could be fatal for us but hey whats a little death on the grand scheme of things. this needs to be changed, now. regulate ebikes not ban them.

Apr. 13 2014 06:56 PM
Carl from New Jersey

I heard this one on the radio. The official said that 15 mph electric bicycles were legal bicycles, 30 mph bicycles were not. She said that the police can't tell the difference, so enforcement is lax.
She said she's seen people on electric bicycles going 30 mph, the wrong way on one way streets, and riding on sidewalks. This is her reason for banning ALL electric bicycles.

Let's apply a little logic to these statements.
1. This indicates that she can spot these 3 different infractions, while the police apparently cannot. I don't believe she really thinks this.
2. There have undoubtedly been regular bicyclists who have ridden on the sidewalk without being ticketed, that would make this a reason for banning ALL bicycles from the city.
3. Using the same logic, since there have been many news items about cars speeding on the streets of New York without being ticketed, we MUST ban ALL cars from the streets of New York.

I'm not saying that there isn't a problem, but the law should make the solution solve the actual problem, unsafe bicycle delivery people.

Mar. 14 2014 05:57 PM
AMHess from Harlem

Why have we banned a clean, quiet form of transportation? We should be making streets more bike-friendly so people don't feel the need to ride on sidewalks. Better to cite a few dangerous riders than outlaw the whole lot.

Mar. 14 2014 02:43 PM
Jimmy from Bay Ridge

There is no, and I repeat NO statistical evidence that electric bicycles are dangerous.

"The New York Police Department does not break out electric bike accidents in its collision data, so it is hard to determine how much of a danger they actually pose."

/argument based on "well I saw/heard"

Mar. 14 2014 03:30 AM
Reality from NYC

"I was hit by an automobile while crossing the street, even though I was crossing with the light on my side. Several bones in my face were shattered and I required surgery and plastic implants. I know someone else who was hit on a bike and her arm was severely broken in several places.

There is simply no contest between an automobile and a bicyclist in terms of force and weight on impact, and it's obviously much more imbalanced against pedestrians. They are much more dangerous than regular bicycles. Automobiles should be required to have proximity sensors and cameras to avoid collisions - the streets also require extensive redesigns and better enforcement.
And of course they should be kept off sidewalks and out of bike lanes - the perpetrators keep doing it because there is zero enforcement."

Fixed (well somewhat), and your teacher should be shot!

Mar. 13 2014 09:33 PM
Nb from Manhattan

I have been hit by an electric motorbike while riding my bike on the williamsburg bridge bike oath. Even though I was wearing a helmet several bones in my face were shattered and required surgery and plastic implants. I know someone else who was hit in her bike and her arm was severely broken in several places.
There is simply no contest between a regular cyclist and her bke and an electric motorbike and it's driver in terms of force and weight on impact, and it's obviously much more imbalanced with pedestrians. They are much more dangerous than regular bicycles.
Just like hybrid and electric cars, electric motorbikes should be required to have a noise emitting feature to warn people of their approach - it could simulate the sounds if an appropriately sized gas engine the way electric cars do.
And of course they should be kept off sidewalks and out of bike lanes - the perpetrators keep doing it because there is zero enforcement.

Mar. 13 2014 08:20 PM
Martha from Brooklyn

"A problem that doesn't exist"?? Then you don't live in a neighborhood where the evening hours are filled with these things driving where and how they should not. They are currently illegal, and that law must be enforced. If the Council decides to change the law, it should absolutely not repeal it, but re-classify these machines as motorbikes and require licensing, lights and compliance with laws that prohibit driving the wrong way and using motorized vehicles on sidewalks.

Mar. 13 2014 08:02 PM
Common Sense from NYC

Banning electric bicycles is among the stupidest pieces of legislation in recent NYC history.

•Electric bicycles are Green.

•Either deliveries will be increasingly transmitted via automobile (more pollution, congestion, collisions) or businesses will hire less personnel.

•This law disproportionately alienates Latin American and Asian immigrants, the most likely people to deliver via electric bicycles.

•As mentioned, the Federal law supersedes this.

Mar. 13 2014 03:54 PM
Rose from Manhattan Lower East Side

I'm a bike rider. I went to China in 2007 and after that I noticed these electric bikes become more and more common. (As well as these little scooters and other vehicles that look like mini motorcycles -- all without license plates.) Although it's not the bike itself, it's the folks who ride them. They don't follow the rules of the road. They go on the sidewalk. They go as fast as cars and if they can do that they should not be in a bike lane. They come up behind you fast and you don't hear them. I've had some close calls -- if I would have moved a few inches over in the bike lane I would have been hit. At this point it's a good idea to ban them. There isn't enough enforcement. THESE BIKES HAVE MOTORS. THEY SHOULD BE REGULATED LIKE MOTORCYCLES. THEY NEED LICENSE PLATES and the drivers need a drivers license to drive them. What's the big deal about using a regular bike for delivery people. Generally they only go a few blocks. Motored bikes need to be banned until the city figures out how to regulate them.

Mar. 13 2014 02:43 PM
Sam Lopez from Nwe York, NY

I have been hit by an electric bike/rider while on my regular bike
I support the ban. I am 51 and ride for my job. I do about 15 miles a day and I don't get exhausted. Thsy do not know common bike laws or even how to ride safe. They need to be off fhe streets!

Mar. 13 2014 01:03 PM
sam from bklyn

These guys feed the City, especially on days like today, I'm very grateful for their hard work.

If an electric bike helps them make a better living, which seems to be the case, then just make sure they obey the existing traffic laws. For that matter, make sure non-motorized bicyclists obey traffic laws as well. No reason to single them out; I often see Citi bike riders going against traffic and not yielding to pedestrians and riding on sidewalks. Why aren't they considered to be a menace?

Mar. 13 2014 12:55 PM
All_Thumbs from Manhattan

These motorized electric bikes are being driven around town whilst violating traffic laws that most other bicyclists obey. Futhermore, they do not have headlights so one can neither see nor hear them after dark. That is dangerous for both pedestrian and motorist. Finally, I see these vehicles on the Hudson River bikepaths all the time; that is indeed breaking the law. Get a cop out on the bike paths around town and start ticketing. The only way to ID these guys is when they wear a bibs that have numbers on them (seamless number?). A final thought: a senior/elderly man with diminished reflexes tooling around delivering Kung Pao chicken does not mix well with pedestrians in ANY city.

Mar. 13 2014 11:38 AM
keith from NYC

Too much hysteria. Electric bikes are a good form of alternative transportation. Enforcement of traffic laws is the answer, not banning a good thing.

Mar. 13 2014 11:31 AM
General Tsu's Chicken to Walk in NYC from Manhattan

1. Electric bikes are silent, so pedestrians can't jump out of the way when they hear them, because they can't hear them.
2. The deliverymen don't know traffic laws, so they don't know when they're violating tem.
3. The deliverymen treat electric bikes as pedal bikes -- that is, they ride on sidewalks, ignore stop signs, ignore one-way traffic.
4. The deliverymen chat on iphones as they ride
5. Their bosses don't/won't carry insurance; won't register bikes, insist the bikes are owned by the deliverymen, who are "independent contractors.
6. There's only one solution: scoop up all electric bike deliverymen and deport them on the same day.

Mar. 13 2014 09:52 AM

Typical American over-reaction to a problem which doesn't exist. Either these people were committing traffic crimes or they weren't. If they were, prosecute them. If you can't, there can't be much of a problem. Why on earth prevent them from driving perfectly normally and safely with a city ordinance preventing them from using the bikes in the first place?

I'm surprised no one has chimed in with the even more common pretence that the real reason for the ordinance was security and that there is a terrorism threat somewhere here!

I agree, challenge the ordinance on grounds of total stupidity (and hope no one raises terrorism as a defence)

Mar. 13 2014 09:22 AM
Mauro from Brooklyn

These bikes should not be banned. Drivers should simply be taught American road rules AND also make mandatory the use of front AND back lights, and helmet.

Mar. 13 2014 09:14 AM

They're NOT bicycles!!

They're MOTORcycles!!! The MOTOR happens to be electric but, a MOTOR nonetheless!!!

…unregulated MOTORCYCLES.


Mar. 13 2014 08:43 AM
Cody Burke

The issue is the federal law says specifically that it shall supersede any state laws on electric bicycles with 750 watt motors or less (that go under 20mph). . Someone really needs to be cited and challenge the city ordinance in court.

Mar. 13 2014 06:55 AM
Benoit Balz from NY

The problem is: often Chinese and possessing little knowledge of and/or a blatant disregard for traffic rules, these deliverymen fly up down streets and sidewalks willy-nilly.

But rather than blame these ignorant immigrants, I'd rather blame the lazy, ignorant NYers who cannot be bothered or are too self-absorbed to walk down the block to pick up their over-packaged take-out...

Mar. 13 2014 06:49 AM

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