By Christopher Robbins
Despite promises from Mayor Bill de Blasio that his crackdown on e-bikes wouldn't hurt "the little guy," the NYPD has continued to issue fines to delivery workers, instead of the businesses they work for. Six weeks ago the department issued a memo to its uniformed officers, directing them to follow the letter of the law and cite the restaurants, not the workers themselves.
The directive, dated November 20th, tells NYPD officers to interview the rider of a motorized scooter or throttle-powered e-bike (pedal-assisted e-bikes are legal) and determine if they are using it for work or personal reasons. If they're a working cyclist, the officer is supposed to find the address of their employer and "Respond to business location if within a reasonable distance." Failing that, officers are required to mail a summons to the business.
City law explicitly states that employers are "liable" for the $500 e-bike fines their workers get, but the NYPD previously argued that the delivery workers often don't wear the required reflective vests that bear the name and address of their employers, or refuse to tell NYPD officers where they work, making it more difficult to cite businesses.
From January 1st, 2018 through October 28th, 2018, the NYPD handed out 590 e-bike summonses to riders, and just 204 to businesses. A spokesperson for the department could not immediately provide more recent figures.
"In theory, the numbers [of citations] for cyclists should be zero," Steven Wasserman, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society, which obtained the department's memo, told Gothamist, adding that he thinks the directive "is a very good thing."
Wasserman, who has represented many delivery cyclists at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings [OATH], said that there has been somewhat of a "drop off" of e-bike summonses against delivery cyclists in late 2018, after OATH hearing officers began dismissing citations issued to riders and not their employers.
Even if the $500 fines are issued to the businesses and not the delivery workers, the bikes are still confiscated, and the employers will have to pay to get them back.
"The business could just decide to disregard the summons and leave the e-bike guy in the lurch, but my guess is the first time that happens the court is gonna find them in default, and is gonna levy the fine, and there's gonna be some very rapid enforcement," Wasserman said.
The memo also does not mention how officers can communicate with delivery cyclists who speak poor English. "There's a lot of them that just walk away, they're afraid of being deported," Wasserman added.
The NYPD's directive comes as a package of City Council bills seeks to legalize electric scooters and throttle-assisted e-bikes by giving workers the opportunity to retrofit their bikes and cap their speed at 20 mph. Those bills are still in committee.
"In a matter of months, hopefully we'll have arrived at some kind of a norm that's just, and where the delivery workers can do their jobs," Wasserman said.