Where have all the eBikes gone….?!

In the New York Metro area, we have been not-so-gently reminded that New York City has a big problem with electric bicycles. Perhaps better said, New York City is having a big problem with people who ride eBikes. So big, they regularly enforce campaigns against eBike riders that involve coordinated law enforcement interventions resulting in stops, frisks, violations and confiscations.

Last October, Mayor Bill DeBlasio stepped-up the crackdown and announced it to the world. Seems there is a big problem with the “delivery people.”

Beginning in 2018, the NYPD will issue a new department directive and provide officers with the necessary forms and training to execute civil enforcement against businesses much more efficiently by allowing officers to issue civil summonses to businesses through the mail. While the NYPD will continue confiscating e-bikes and issuing summonses to riders — particularly those riding in a hazardous manner — officers will step up enforcement activity against businesses that too often put their employees in a position to break the law.

Well, okay, they don’t actually say it’s about the delivery people but Senator Brad Hoylman and others seem to focus on the delivery people:

“Electric bikes are dangerous nuisances in my Senate district for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Moreover, they’re illegal, so it’s outrageous that some irresponsible businesses in Manhattan brazenly flout the law by using E-bikes to make deliveries. I’m glad the Mayor is making enforcement against E-bikes a priority,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman.

“We’ve seen a number of incidents involving e-bikes and pedestrians on the Upper West Side, and I want to thank Mayor de Blasio for being so responsive to community concerns. It’s extremely important to hold restaurants accountable for the use of e-bikes when making food deliveries, whether the restaurants actually own the bikes or not. The onus of enforcement should not just be on delivery people. I look forward to continuing to work with the administration to make our streets and sidewalks truly safe for pedestrians,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

So, if the delivery people and the restaurants they work for are really the problem, why is the Mayor’s Office implementing this overly-broad policy and enforcement? This is a question on the minds of many. If you have a few minutes, you may like to hear a piece that was the first installment for a new program on WNYC, “The People’s Guide to Power.” Maybe this is where it all got so complicated.

In the inaugural edition, Brian Lehrer interviews Matthew Schefler, a 60-year-old investment manager, community activist and upper west side resident, who is so dedicated to fixing the problem that when he sees a suspicious operator during the interview, going too fast for him to even get his radar gun out to clock his speed, hops on his traditional bicycle and gives chase:

As the sun goes down on the Upper West Side, a black, 60-pound electric bike with wide tires and a suspension fork zooms past him. Shefler is too busy explaining his issue to pull his radar gun out in time.

“Look at this – did you see this vehicle? That’s basically a motorcycle,” he said.

He grabs his bicycle and chases the biker up the street. It turns out to be Jonathan Lyons, a 28-year old delivery guy from Manhattan who makes house calls for the dog-care company Dogaholics.


The problem is not Mr. Schefler- we applaud him for his community activism and need more like him. He drew attention to a real problem with public safety and quality of life issues for NYC residents. The problem is in the enforcement and the laws prohibiting this behavior. Let’s face it, without a rider, an eBike, or any bike, for that matter, does not break any speed limit because it is not moving. So, the problem is not the eBike.

Think of it this way: your automobile probably can go much faster that 65 miles per hour- maybe even break 100mph? But 100mph is very dangerous and therefore, illegal. Get caught and you get fines, penalties, increased insurance premiums and can even lose your driving privileges. Maybe even your car. But your car all by itself is not illegal- your behavior is.

Ah-Ha! You may say… eBike riders do not need a operator’s license so the only way to ensure safety is to ban the eBikes themselves! That will stop it, right? Besides, we think delivery people may just not show up to pay any fines or penalties anyway, so let’s get the bikes off the street. Problem solved.

Except the NYPD is not really enforcing the law to curb the identified problem- they are simply initiating a coordinated sweep, with the attendant media attention, to meet their law enforcement directives and follow the Mayor’s policies. Make an example out of them- confiscate their eBikes and charge them with violating the law as a viable means of deterring unwanted and unsafe behavior. One size fits all. And make it a part of the overall plan to make pedestrians safer in the five boroughs, by linking it to “VisionZero,” a laudable program initiated early on by Mayor DeBlasio to make New York a safer place. Seems like a winner.

Except it has been problematic for many, including Josmar Trujillo, also a community activist. Despite the arguably color-blind, gender-neutral and non-xenophobic nature of the enforcement, the actual effect has an unfair impact on those with lesser means.

We are bound to see much more about this in the coming year and will stay on top of it for you. But… in the meantime…

Where have all the eBikes gone????

Take look at the picture up at the top again. Confiscated eBikes.

In 2017, NYPD has confiscated 923 e-bikes and issued nearly 1,800 summonses to people who’ve committed the crime of riding an e-bike, according to City Hall. There are much more to come, according to Mayor DeBlasio. If this continues as planned, there will be potentially thousands more confiscated eBikes in addition to those already in custody.

So, where are they?

Sometimes, confiscated items are returned to the owner after fines and penalties are paid in addition to guilty pleas. Did they all go back to their owners when they entered guilty pleas to the infractions, paid all the fines and costs for towing and storing the eBike?

More often, confiscated items are retained and then sold in police auctions after other options have been exhausted. Have these eBikes been sold at auctions in the past and are there future plans to auction the ever-increasing cache of eBikes in the evidence lockers?

Well, we could ask the NYC Property Clerk Division. I started digging into this resource and it is going to take a lot more time than I have right now to try to find answers to that question. You will see what I mean.

Have you had your eBike confiscated?

If you have, we would love to hear about your experiences here. Here are some questions that may be helpful:

  • Why did you purchase an eBike instead of a traditional bicycle in the first place? Did your eBike assist you with mobility challenges or maybe just made it easier for you to get around?
  • Where were you and what were you doing when you got stopped for eBike riding Were you making deliveries or out for a ride for fun, exercise and pleasure? Were you commuting to or from your job?
  • What kind of tickets (citations) did you get- what were your charged with?
  • Did the police confiscate your eBike?
  • Did you pay fines an penalties? What were they?
  • Did you get your eBike back?
  • Did anyone tell you you may be able get your eBike back or do you think it is gone forever?

Please share your thoughts and experiences- we want to know where all the confiscated eBikes have gone. Your input is very helpful and very welcome!

One thing we don’t want to see is your eBike being included in one of these “mass executions,” used very effectively by the NYPD to make a point.

That would be just plain wrong.

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