NYC's Electric Bike Ban Is About Powerless Immigrants

Chinese takeout food deliverymen are penalized for using electric-assist bicycles in New York City.

Published: 11-Jan-2014

For years, food deliverymen in New York City relied on the electric bike, or e-bike, a normal bicycle with a small motor attached to it. With its small size and lightweight frame, the e-bike enabled deliverymen to sling food to a greater area more quickly, thus satisfying their customers and earning larger tips.

In 2004, however, the New York City Council made e-bikes illegal, claiming they made the streets unsafe for pedestrians. A 2002 federal law had classified two-wheeled machines with pedals and small electric motors that couldn’t go faster than 20 MPH as ordinary bicycles, but then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s government, always on the lookout for something new to regulate, made any motorized vehicle that couldn’t be registered with the DMV illegal.

It was difficult for cops to figure out which bikes were illegal, so the law went largely unenforced. Then, in November, the City Council responded by redoubling the ban, citing complaints sent from frightened citizens. Under the new rules, cops are empowered to impound e-bikes and penalize the restaurants that employ their riders.

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