Mengba Lee, a 58-year-old food delivery worker, says that without an e-bike, he would be left with few options to earn a living as an immigrant in New York City.
Eduardo Perez-Torres is also in the same situation, where serving customers without a motor to help him along is tiring and frustrating.
These two men share the same distress that many other food delivery workers share with the added burden, they claim, of being unfairly targeted by law enforcement under the de Blasio administration over the use of e-bikes. They shared their stories on May 3 in Jackson Heights during a press conference held by two Queens lawmakers who seek the legalization of e-bikes.
“In the past year and a half, the police have issued me four e-bike tickets at $500 each,” Lee said through a translator. “Which means I have paid $2,000 in fines. The police also confiscated my e-bike once which made me miss a lot of work. Delivery workers don’t understand why the government has such a law to punish us when we are just trying to deliver food that people order.”
Perez-Torres’ experience does not fall far from this, he said, but when his bike was confiscated there was only more hardship.
In order to get his bike back, he was forced to shell out over $900. But upon leaving the bank, he was robbed by an individual pretending to be a cop.
When he finally got his bike back over a month later, it had been damaged under the care of NYPD and repairs had to be made.
Make the Road NY and Transportation Alternatives are pushing back against a policy put in place by the de Blasio administration under the administrative code 19-176.2.
Mayor Bill de Blasio took action against e-bike and scooter users in 2017, granting NYPD and Department of Parks and Recreation to issue civil penalties of $500 and even impound the property until all fines and fees are paid for.
Since bicycles and scooters are not required to be registered with the state, they are prohibited from using a motor of any kind, according to the law.
Marco Conner, deputy director with Transportation Alternatives, called the mayor’s policy a “draconian” hypocrisy that allows the police to harass the city’s poorest immigrants.
“The mayor is recreating the darkest legacies of this city’s policing and betraying the very values upon which he was elected,” Conner said. “This policy is racist and it is classist. The racial disparity of who is stopped and who has their bikes confiscated are racist … He was elected pledging to end stop-and-frisk, to end broken windows policing against immigrant workers in New York City.”
Conner also took aim at Vision Zero, claiming that the policy that aims to make the city safer for bicyclists and pedestrians is undermined by the hobbling the ability of immigrants to work.
Tiffany Chang claimed the average Chinese delivery worker is 46 years old, with three out of five claiming they have been assaulted at least once.
Taking the issue on at the state is Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, whose districts cover heavy Hispanic and Asian immigrant populations. Advocates say they are most impacted by the policy.
Their bill introduced in Albany just days ago would establish four new non-auto vehicle categories: pedal assist e-bikes, throttle-powered e-bikes, pedal-assist e-bikes and e-scooters.
“We have a great opportunity not just for the neighborhoods that are transit deserts, those that are overcome with traffic congestion impacting our environment, but also an opportunity to deliver economic and social justice for the workers standing here today with us who have been disproportionately impacted by the lack of judgement in the current law,” Rozic said.
At the Friday press conference in Corona Plaza, Rozic and Ramos said New York is one of the last states to make changes its laws to permit the use of motorized bikes.
“For far too long already, City Hall has been cracking down on our immigrant delivery workers. It’s not fair and it does not work,” Ramos said. “We depend on our small businesses, particularly our restaurants to ensure that we have a vibrant economy right here in our district.”
The Legal Aid Society is also challenging the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings in the state Supreme Court for approving authorization for NYPD to issue the $500 fines to food delivery workers, claiming it goes against a different code which places the fines on the business instead of the delivery workers.
The two legislators are attempting to get the legislation through the floors of both chambers by the end of the next session.