Safety Challenges as E-bike Delivery Workers Increase



An e-bike delivery worker near Penn Station. Photo by Lai Jiang

It only takes three steps to start an electronic bike delivery career with Uber Eats in New York City: set up an account, upload a government issued identification card and enter your social security number. 

Once these three steps are complete, you’re able to join the growing number of about 65,000 other app-based food delivery workers across the city.

As many looked to the delivery industry after losing existing jobs due to the pandemic in early 2020, Uber Eats said it hired about 30,000 couriers citywide between March and April of  that year. But the number of e-bike workers isn’t the only thing increasing. E-bike-related crashes are also on the rise. There have been more than 160 e-bike crashes in Midtown since January of last year, a 595% increase as compared to 23 in 2020, NYC Open data indicates. More than 30 riders and pedestrians have been injured.

Currently, there is no city law requiring an e-bike license or registration and an Uber Eats staff member who declined to give her name because of job safety concerns confirmed there is no overarching onboarding training. But she said new workers can access a guide to driving and delivering on the Uber website and seek assistance for particular issues. 

“They’re reckless and people have been hurt,” said Mario Riservato, who has lived in Manhattan for more than 30 years. He said a bike zoomed right by him in his neighborhood earlier this year.“You can see e-bikes coming in every direction,” he said, adding, “some riders will stop at red lights but some don’t.” He also said there is increased danger at night when it is harder to see fast-moving bikes. 

“Some delivery workers will have a taillight on their e-bikes, but no headlights,” he said. “So the tail light protects them from cars and people moving behind them but from the front, we have no protection because we can’t see them.”

E-bikes are also becoming easier to purchase. There are now several different options with a wide price range  from about $600 to $8,000. Bikes with enhanced safety features are often more expensive. 

“If you want an e-bike with great lighting and a dashboard, that is going to cost you a lot of money,” said Adama Romba, an UberEats delivery rider who works in Midtown and Upper Manhattan.

Romba said he was forced to quit his job as a restaurant worker during the pandemic and entered the delivery industry in 2020. He paid $1,000 for his e-bike, which he bought in Chinatown. 

“I could not afford a dashboard, so my e-bike will not tell me the speed figure when I am moving,” he said. “But I can approximately estimate the speed.”

While a license is not required, the city does regulate e-bike speed, according to a post on the Department of Transportation’s website. E-bike riders are allowed to travel at a speed of up to 25 miles-per-hour, depending on their e-bike model. But the number of speeding tickets issued to speeding e-bike riders in New York City remains unclear as e-bike violations are lumped in with speeding car violations. 

“Delivering food in Midtown is complicated because the traffic is heavy, there are a lot of cars, delivery riders and people are walking around,” said Romba.

Last month, Romba said his e-bike collided with a car while he was delivering near Madison Square Garden. He suffered a minor injury to his hand and did not report the incident to Uber Eats. But he said after this accident he realized the platform should give riders some basic safety training.  

Members of the community board agree.

“There should be a requirement that delivery companies send their contractor somewhere to study or get training,” said Christine Berthet, co-chair of  Community Board 4’s Transportation Planning Committee. “They should be responsible for educating their workers.”

Berthet said the committee is doing a bike safety program to encourage e-bike regulation, including sending information flyers and providing free bicycle helmets in some locations around the city. The board is also requesting more enforcement from the New York Police Department. 

“I know it is hard to chase or track e-bikes without any registration information of them,” said Riservato. “But people who have the power and rights should exercise them, and they don’t seem to have a plan for it.”