03 May 2018

E-Bikes: An Immigrants'-Rights Issue?

The other day, I admitted that I have aimed an impolite hand gesture at inconsiderate motorists.  I have also used more than a few words, in a few languages (hey, I'm in New York) that aren't fit for a family blog.

(Is this a family blog?)

I have also made those same gestures and hurled those same verbal missiles at e-bike riders who have come out of nowhere and cut across intersections, or in front of me.  Afterward, I feel a little guilty:  After all, I was once a bike messenger and understand how difficult it is to make a living from making deliveries.  I'll bet that some of them, after a day of delivering pepperoni pizzas or Korean tacos, may not have a meal to bring home to their families--or for themselves.

Even though I sometimes wish that all of those e-bikes would turn into real, I mean pedal, bikes, I realize that some of those delivery guys (nearly all of them are male) have to continue in the same line of work even as their bodies are giving out on them.  I also know that nearly all of them are immigrants, some of whom can speak English very little if at all, and may not have many (if any) other marketable skills.

If those guys stopped making deliveries, the city would come to a standstill.  All right, perhaps I'm exaggerating just a bit.  I have to wonder, though, what some folks would do if they couldn't have their diner dishes or trattoria treats delivered to them after a long day at work--or if said meals were to double in price.

So if the problem is not that those workers use e-bikes, what is it?  

Well, not all e-bikes are created equal.  Here in New York, there are basically three classes.  Class 1 e-bikes are the pedal-assisted variety and attain top speeds of 20MPH.  Recently, Mayor de Blasio declared them perfectly legal in this city.  Class 2 and 3 bikes are throttle-operated and not legal in the Big Apple.

You might have guessed where the rub is:  Most deliveries are done on Class 2 and 3 bikes because, well, they're faster and don't require pedaling.  The fine for operating such machines is $500 per day--more than most delivery workers make in a week.  Worse, the police can and do confiscate these bikes, which leaves workers unable to provide for their families--and lots of yuppies and hipsters hungry.

Transportation Alternatives is therefore circulating a petition calling for, among other things, guidelines and requirements--as well as a program that provides financial and practical assistance--for converting Class 2 and 3 bikes to Class 1.  In addition, the petition calls for a moratorium on e-bike enforcement until the regulatory framework has been fully implemented, and the workers, NYPD and public are educated about the changes.

So, while I hope that I won't stop pedaling until someone can stick a fork in me, I don't want to deprive immigrants of income for themselves and their families.  After all, who else will my General Tso's Chicken while I'm binge-watching The Golden Girls?


  1. WHAT is the basis for making Class 2 and 3 bikes illegal in NY? Do they present some sort of danger to other road users that 18 wheel trucks do not? Or is this a case of "we don't like them" similar (albeit in a far milder form) rationale that the Nazis used to kill millions of people THEY didn't like. Perhaps Trump is more mainstream than I thought.

    I'm not inclined to buy any class of ebike, but I felt no particular danger or fear when I was passed by one this morning. Perhaps de Blasio ought to ride a Class 2 or 3 instead of his limosine.

    Sounds to me like the right to travel is being eroded in one more form. If everyone rode Class 2/3 ebikes, would we really be worse off than if they all drove single-occupant SUVs?

  2. Steve--I agree that Class 2 and 3 bikes pose, if anything, less danger than other motorized vehicles. As best as I can tell, the reason why they're illegal is that no one has figured out a way to regulate them. Are they small motorcycles, or bikes with motors?