Not so long ago, if you ordered General Tso's Chicken, Curry Shrimp, a container of hot and sour soup and wontons for you and your loved one, it would be delivered on a beat-up mountain bike or a bike-boom era ten-speed.
That bike was, more than likely, rescued from trash that was set out by the curb. Or it was purchased for a few dollars from any number of corners where thieves sold their booty. (Pre-gentrification St. Mark's Place used to be the epicenter of this trade.)
Now the men (All that I've seen are men) who deliver your favorite Chinese foods are likely to go to a showrooms to buy their delivery vehicles. Most of those put-put palaces are out of the public's (and, ahem, law enforcement's) view, although a few operate openly. The vehicles they buy now are shiny and new and those men have had to save their money for months--or borrow it--in order to buy one of these vehicles.
I'm talking, of course, about electric bikes. The delivery men love them because they're faster (about 20mph) than most bikes and are almost as easy as bicycles to maneuver in traffic. Best of all, from their standpoint, those "bikes" don't have to be pedaled. And now when restaurants hire delivery personnel, they give preference to those who have those low-voltage velos.
There are just two problems with this scenario. First of all, electric bikes are illegal in this city. But, as more than one police officer has admitted, the ban is not enforced because "we have more pressing issues." There isn't any public demand to raid and close down the shops that sell electric bikes, as there is for, say, "drug dens" or houses of prostitution in residential neighborhoods.
The second problem is that it's, quite frankly, all but impossible to penalize careless electric bike operators--ironically, because of their illegality. Because those bikes are illegal, there is no licensing requirement for them. So, most of their operators don't carry--or even have--driver's licenses. In fact, one of the few operators who's been arrested--for getting into a fight with a pedestrian--admitted that he and many other delivery men don't read or write English well enough to pass the written part of the exam for a driver's license. The lack of a license makes it more difficult to keep any kind of record of violations.
As a matter of fact, as that same operator admitted, some delivery men don't have documentation of any kind. Now, I'm not a lawyer, but I feel pretty confident in saying that there's not much you can do with an undocumented scofflaw but to detain and deport him or her. Most local law enforcement officials don't want to get involved with the latter (which would involve dealing with Federal agencies, which nearly all of them are loath to do), and feel there are more pressing needs for their jail space.
To be fair to delivery people, though, they are simply people who are trying to make a living the best way they know how. Worse than them are some of the teenagers I sometimes see riding electric bikes on bike/pedestrian lanes, especially the ones that line the bridges. The bridge lanes are almost invariably narrow and shared with runners, people pushing baby strollers and such. You know how young people (especially men) who just got their drivers' licences drive their cars. Well, they operate motor bikes with even more reckless abandon. I am not the only cyclist who has been grazed (or nearly so) by one of them, and I am not the only female cyclist who has had to deal with a young man on an electric bike riding as close as he can, then taking off.
Since banning electric bikes has done nothing to keep them off the streets and paths, I think they should be legalized--and that anyone who wants to use one should be required to get a permit. To get that permit, of course, they would have to take safety classes. And, I think, electric bikes need to be governed by a different set of regulations from those for bicycles, motorcycles or automobiles. Perhaps there could be a "points" system, as there is for automobiles, and anyone who accumulates too many would lose his permit--and his ability to get a license to drive a motorcycle, car or larger vehicle.
What do you think? Have you seen many of these electric bikes in your community? If so, what's your experience with them? Do you think they should be regulated--or allowed at all?