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E-bike crackdown spurs delivery workers' concern

China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-27 10:07
A delivery man rides an electronic bike in New York on Dec 21. [Photo/Agencies]

NEW YORK-Cheap, electric bicycles have made life a lot easier for New York's legions of restaurant delivery workers, but the party may be over in the New Year.

City officials are promising a crackdown on e-bikes, which may be loved by environmentalists and the largely poor, immigrant workforce that relies on them, but are loathed by many drivers and pedestrians who think they are a menace.

Under city law, the bikes are legal to own and sell, but riding them on the street can lead to a fine of up to $500. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this fall that starting in 2018, businesses that have employees use the bikes are also subject to a fine of $100 for a first offense and $200 for each subsequent offense.

"Electric bikes are illegal to operate on city streets and those at the top of the food chain need to be held accountable," city spokesman Austin Finan said. "Instead of merely targeting riders, we're going after businesses that look the other way and leave their workers to shoulder the fine."

That policy will undoubtedly prove popular with many New Yorkers who have complained that the bikes, which look and handle just like regular bicycles but can reach speeds of 32 km/h or more, are often operated recklessly. Lots of people have stories about close calls where they stepped out into the street, only to nearly be hit by a quick-moving bike they couldn't hear coming.

But it will be bad news for deliverymen like Clemente Martinez, who spends up to 12 hours a day in the saddle, often in lousy weather.

"It's not fair because people like me do depend on them," said Martinez through a translator. The 44-year-old from Puebla, Mexico, came to the United States almost 15 years ago and has been working as a delivery person almost all that time, buying his electric bicycle almost three years ago.

"We're using this as something that lets us work and support our families."

Mopeds

Advocates for alternate forms of transportation said the crackdown also doesn't make sense from an environmental or safety perspective.

Gas-powered mopeds, which are faster and heavier than e-bikes, continue to be legal under state law, although they must be registered and the driver must be licensed. A business using one for deliveries also has to have insurance.

Some cycling advocacy groups have challenged the city to produce data showing whether the e-bikes pose any unusual danger, compared to other vehicles.

Federal law allows electric bicycles that go 32 km/h or less to be treated as bicycles for product safety and standards, but New York state law doesn't allow them to be registered or licensed as motorized vehicles.

Enforcement against the bicycles has already been on the upswing, with almost 1,000 of them confiscated by police this year, an increase of several hundred from the year before.

AP

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