Delivery Workers Hope City Will Legalize E-Bikes

Mexican immigrant Ernesto Jiménez works delivering food in New York City. (Photo via El Diario)

The clock strikes 11 o’clock in the morning. The smell of rice and beans and chicken floods a small “Spanish food” restaurant in Lower Manhattan. The phone rings, interrupting a transaction at the cash register.

“Yes… OK… 10 lunches… Yes, they come with soup… Soup of the day is beef… 40 minutes,” says the woman behind the counter. She returns her attention to the customer smiling in front of her and says, in her Venezuelan accent: “Sorry. Your bill is $10.”

(…) The phone has not stopped ringing, and order after order is delivered by a group of Hispanic men who take turns to bring food to the dozens of customers who work in the area. (…)

In the midst of the hustle and bustle, Ernesto Jiménez, a Queens resident who has spent the last six years riding his bicycle on the city’s streets delivering orders, takes down the details of one of them, which must arrive “as soon as possible.”

Jiménez, a Mexican immigrant who supports his wife and three children, has just turned 45, and he is beginning to worry about how he will be able to continue doing this work as he grows older. He has been splitting his week working at two different restaurants. One place requires him to have his own bike. The other provides him with an electric bicycle, or e-bike.

“I am OK for now with the bike because I stay in shape, and also the electric ones scare me because the police may stop me and I might get a fine,” said the Mexico native. (…)

“This is hard work, and the [electric] bikes are helping those who don’t have the same fitness level of a younger person,” said Jiménez. “Many people need to do this for a living and to put food on the table.” The cashier [who asked to withhold her name] agrees: “That helps business quite a bit because the faster we are able to deliver, the more tips we get. It’s a win-win.”

(…) Every day, more than 50,000 delivery workers ride the city’s streets on bike. According to activists, nearly half of them use electric bicycles, which are still illegal. [Editor’s note: In April, the city modified its rule on e-bikes to allow for pedal-assist e-bikes that go up to 20 mph.]

That is why a number of City Council members set out to present alternatives to allow these workers to use this mode of transportation legally free from the fear of being stopped by the police.

Council members Rafael Espinal, Fernando Cabrera, Ydanis Rodríguez and Margaret Chin met with activists and delivery workers on Wednesday to present a package of four bills that aim to legalize the use of most electric bicycles and scooters, including throttle-only e-bikes, which do not use pedals.

(…) The authorities declared war on these modes of transportation in October after Mayor Bill de Blasio escalated his offensive against electric bikes and employers who allow their workers to use them. Since then, the NYPD has confiscated more than 900 of these bikes and issued over 1,800 citations with fines of up to $500.

“We cannot afford the luxury of paying that money, but we also can’t stop working,” stressed one of Jiménez’s co-workers. (…)

“We need to respond to consumers. They are already using [them],” said Council member Rodríguez, chair of the Committee on Transportation. “It is time for us to legalize these modes of transportation, not just in downtown Manhattan but also in other areas, so our delivery workers are able to move around more easily; or for our teachers, who often have to walk 15 blocks from the train station to teach at their school.”

Council member Cabrera emphasized that the scooters are an affordable, eco-friendly and safe transportation option for New Yorkers.

“The speed limit for scooters is regulated at 15 mph, and legalizing these vehicles is especially important for communities of color, where delivery services are a source of family income and where the increasingly high cost of public transport is a challenge,” said Cabrera.

For his part, Mayor de Blasio said that while he is committed to innovation, e-scooters will remain illegal. “(…) We want to review the proposals,” said a spokesperson of the mayor’s office.

“Hundreds of delivery workers are profiled by the NYPD just for doing their job. Through these laws, we hope to prevent them from having to choose between providing for their family or not,” said Council member Espinal. (…)

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