The government doesn’t care.
That is what Green Power E-Bike owner Daniel Zhou says when asked about the recent citywide ban on all motor scooters and electric bikes.
He is scared that his once-successful e-bike shop will soon go belly-up and, despite his multiple pleas to the city, he feels his business’ best days have come and gone.
“They’re trying to kill the business,” Zhou said in his e-bike filled storeroom in Flushing. “People have stopped coming because they are afraid of this new law. I’ve tried to contact the government to decide what’s best here, but more powerful people than me control things. They don’t care. I don’t want to lose my business.”
Zhou opened his store in 2008 and he says business, of which 80 to 90 percent of his clientele is made up of take-out eateries, has always been fairly good. But with the City Council’s April passage of twin laws defining motor scooters and e-bikes and making them illegal, he says he feels frightened for his future.
The state of New York has always deemed the operation of such devices illegal, but a loophole in the prior city law banning such use allowed people to ride them if they were traveling slower than 15 mph. Enforcement of such a ban was nearly impossible, as determining an e-bike rider’s speed proved difficult.
Selling e-bikes and motor scooters remain legal in both the state and city.
To combat the loophole being used mainly by food delivery employees, Councilwoman Jessica Lapin (D-Manhattan) and Councilman Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan) introduced Intro 1030 and Intro 1026-A on April 9.
Both bills were passed on April 25, Intro 1030 by a tally of 48 to 1 and Intro 1026-A by a tally of 49 to 1, and signed by Mayor Bloomberg on May 15. The laws officially went into effect on Nov. 11.
Unlike mopeds and vespas, Section 19-176.2 of the New York City Administrative Code says motorized scooters are defined as “any wheeled device that has handlebars, that is designed to be stood or sat upon by the operator, is powered by an electric motor or by a gasoline motor that is capable of propelling the device without human power and is not capable of being registered with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.”
The statute goes on to describe a civil penalty of $500 will be administered to those caught riding the scooters and the bikes may be impounded if one does not pay the previous fines levied for illegally operating the devices.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) praised the law as one that supplements the state law and will make streets that much safer, but he also expressed doubt as to how the impounding process will work, fearing potential litigation between the city and an offending rider.
“My guess is that notice of a possible impounding will be given with the fine,” Addabbo said. “The problem is that the bikes are private property and enforcing the law may create a lawsuit.
“Every law starts out with good intentions, but we may find out a year from now that law will have to be amended because [the City Council] forgot to include a notice to go along with the fine,” he continued. “That may have to happen here.”
There is no mention of any notice of impounding that would accompany a fine in Section 19-176.2
Addabbo also noted that the seizure of bikes would be rare, but unless police are informed of a new law they are required to enforce, such seizures would never occur.
Detective Thomas Bell of the 104th Precinct in Ridgewood told the Chronicle in an email that he was unaware of any new law regarding the banishment of e-bikes from city streets.
“We have not received anything regarding this ban yet,” Bell said on Dec. 9. “As of today there is no comment because the precinct has not received anything on this ban.”
Members of the NYPD aren’t the only ones without answers, as Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brookyln), who cast the only ‘no’ vote on both City Council bills in April, scoffs at how the e-bike ban will be enforced.
“I asked if the police are just going to pull them over on the street and take them? I have no idea,” Barron said. “Are the police going to pack the bikes into the precinct? What about the people that have them? Are they supposed to just throw them away? It just causes way more problems than it solves.”
Juan Martinez, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, a public transportation and bicycling advocacy group, believes that the law does not effectively target those delivery riders who dangerously swerve around pedestrians on the sidewalk. Instead, the ban simply includes all motor bike riders, and those who enjoy e-bikes that permit pedaling with a motor assist, with a broad brush.
“There’s no real reason that e-bikes should be illegal at all. They enable people who are older to still bike,” Martinez said. “The bike itself is not the problem. The number one way to reduce people riding dangerously on the sidewalks is to have specific bike lanes.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) defended the law, saying it is meant to “make the city streets safer,” but he also is unsure of how police will enforce such a ban or how e-bike owners would be notified of the new ban.
“My guess is that when the police see any activities that are in violation of the law, they will make a stop,” Van Bramer said. “The relevant city agencies should be doing the outreach necessary.”
Addabbo agrees with Van Bramer on the ban making streets safer, but he acknowledges that some businesses, like Green Power E-Bike, will be negatively impacted.
“We don’t want to put people out of work, but public safety is of great concern,” he said. “I think the bottom line here is safety.”
Zhou says he reminded his past customers to never ride on the sidewalk, and while he is a proponent of bike lanes for such devices, any modification of the law might be too late.
“I just spent $500 to meet with a lawyer,” he said. “But I won’t go back to the government, it doesn’t work. They don’t care.”
This article originally contained a second photo, with a caption that mischaracterized the vehicle in the picture. It was a gasoline-powered scooter that is street-legal and registered. We regret the error.