As deaths climb, NYC mulls e-bike safety crackdown under new agency planned by Mayor Eric Adams

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E-bike safety checks and enforcement would be a key role of the new city agency Mayor Eric Adams is contemplating to regulate New York’s growing food and package delivery industry.

Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi — who is leading Adams’ push to design and establish what some informally call the Department of Sustainable Delivery — told the New York Daily News the agency “will regulate new forms of delivery transit and ensure their safety.”

“The equipment that you’re going to use to do that delivery has to be inspected,” said Joshi. “There has to be some oversight to ensure that it’s safe.”

Joshi, who headed the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission from 2014 to 2019 under former mayor Bill de Blasio, likened the proposed delivery department to her former agency.

The TLC requires all Ubers, Lyfts, taxis and liveries to undergo regular safety inspections and adhere to equipment rules above and beyond those of ordinary cars on the street.

E-bikes, Joshi said, are a “tragic example” of what happens in the absence of such regulation.

“They came in (to the city) quickly, because they met a need of workers to have cheap mobility and to meet the demands of an industry that is based completely on time and rewards for fast delivery,” Joshi said.

“But the tragic truth is, nobody did the check around the safety, and we have an opportunity to prevent the next e-bike tragedy by ensuring that before you can deliver using equipment, there is a authorized specification that that equipment meets when it comes to safety.”

Full data isn’t available yet for the number of traffic deaths involving e-bike and e-mobility devices in 2023 — but as of October, 18 people had been killed on e-bikes or e-mobility devices.

That partial-year data suggested e-bike and e-mobility deaths are rising.

In 2022, the city says such devices most widely used by delivery workers were involved in 21 deaths. In 2021, the first year for which VisionZero data e-bike and e-mobility data is available, the devices were involved in 15 deaths.

The city’s Department of Transportation currently sets rules as to where e-bikes and mopeds are allowed to operate and the speeds at which they are allowed to travel.

The DOT has minimal enforcement capabilities, however. It relies on the NYPD to enforce the rules — including such tasks as keeping high-powered mopeds out of the city’s bike lane network.

The growth of the e-bike delivery business has also brought deadly lithium-ion battery fires.

Eighteen people died in e-bike battery fires in the city in 2023 — mostly in houses or apartments where poorly designed after-market batteries were being charged. The Fire Department early in February shut down an e-bike battery factory in Queens where inspectors believed a fire was imminent.

The boom in home delivery that began with the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a boom in the number of trucks and delivery bikes and mopeds on city streets.

Approximately five million packages were delivered by cargo bike in 2022, the most recently available data from the Department of Transportation shows.

App-based food delivery is harder to quantify, but the city estimates the industry has grown to employ roughly 60,000 people.

“We don’t know how many pieces of equipment are traveling throughout our streets delivering goods,” Joshi said.

The proposed agency could become home to other city initiatives on delivery issues.

Mayor Adams’ administration has been pushing to use cargo bikes in place of delivery trucks for last-mile delivery. The city has also sought suggestions for ways to move local freight on city waterways, and to legalize four-wheeled truck-like e-bikes.

Joshi said she foresees the proposed agency as a “front door,” issuing licenses and promulgating rules for businesses that want to operate delivery services in the five boroughs.

The department — whether it’s a standalone agency or a division of an existing agency remains to be seen, Joshi said — would require businesses to apply for licenses to run app-based delivery services, whether they use e-bikes, regular bikes, or, at some future point, robots or drones.

Joshi said she hoped a licensing body for the delivery business would add an incentive for delivery companies to follow the rules.

“If doing business in New York means that you need to get a license from a New York City agency, and that license comes with certain requirements around your safety record, then you start to align those two things,” Joshi said.

“It is (a) void in jurisdiction that we want to solve for.”

The next steps in the agency’s establishment are being worked out. “The conversations with City Council have already started,” Joshi said when asked about a timeline.