E-bikes speeding through the streets of Roosevelt Island? Is it our fault?

E-bikes speeding through the streets of Roosevelt Island? Is it our fault?

You can’t walk anywhere on Main Street in the late afternoon or evening without seeing food delivery workers on e-bikes racing through stop signs and crosswalks, speeding meals to hungry Roosevelt Islanders. It’s dangerous and many residents are furious at Public Safety for ignoring lawbreaking. But from the opposite point of view, it’s not so simple, and the traffic crimes may be our fault.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

The plight of food delivery workers

Food delivery workers challenge pedestrian safety on walking paths, getting us our meals fast.

According to a September report in the Worker’s Justice Project, “…the median hourly wage for delivery workers in New York City is $7.94. Even including tips, the hourly net pay is $12.21.”

While the high prices of food have helped keep this number low, it is understandable that drivers would want to take shortcuts and race through stop signs and crosswalks if their lives depend on getting people their dinners.

“We can’t take our time,” said one worker who did not want to give his name for fear of losing his job. “They want their food fast, we have to get there fast.”

Speeding and running red lights and stop signs

So, why are food delivery workers speeding, running red lights and ignoring stop signs? It’s because, at least indirectly, we want them to. We want our dinners and snacks, and we want them fast.

The increased demand for food has increased the need to hire more workers, and when there is a need, there will be someone to meet that need. Late at night and in the early morning hours (and sometimes during peak dinner and lunch hours) we see delivery people speeding through intersections on their e-bikes to get our meals to us as fast as possible.

What can we do?

The solution is not for Public Safety to step up enforcement and issue a slew of speeding tickets or failure to stop fines, because the people who would be ticketed are the ones doing us a favor by bringing us our dinners. At poverty wages that can only be improved by getting there faster.

We need to think about changing New York City’s traffic laws–and this means we need to contact our elected representatives. It is insufficient for a delivery person to have the necessary licenses because, as everyone who has driven knows, licenses alone do not ensure anything. The law, in practice, is whatever Public Safety will enforce.

If Public Safety continues to ignore safety issues and traffic crimes, all Roosevelt Islanders are at risk. But clampdowns stir up other issues. If food deliveries slow because there’s a cop on every corner, then tips dry up and that awful $12.21 gets even lower.

Who’s at fault here?

In 2020, Public safety handed out flyers encouraging bike safety, but however well-intended, it wasn’t enough.

With an impoverished workforce racing to bring us food, while nearly starving themselves, all those traffic violations are more symptoms of a socioeconomic sickness causing them. If we demand cheap food delivered fast and also cheap, aren’t we forcing the problems we want Public Safety to solve by ticketing food delivery workers?

How many of us, cozy in our chairs, idling in front of our TVs, wondering how soon our doorbells will ring, would even consider the jobs food delivery workers hold down? On a cold winter night, wind at our faces, never sure if the next tip will make the effort worth it…?

“Two-thirds of respondents” in the Worker’s Justice Project study” said they regularly work six days a week, and 85% said this was their main and only job.” But it gets worse. “…about half the respondents said they have been involved in a crash or accident while out on a delivery, and 75% of them said they paid for medical care with their own personal funds.”

Solutions for food delivery workers?

One thing is for sure, the problems are not Roosevelt Island’s alone. They exist all over New York City, meaning no local community can change this on their own. We need a change in the way food deliveries are made.

The Worker’s Justice Project is organizing a campaign demanding that the city pass laws that stop the problems from happening. They would, among other things, standardize fair wages and improve conditions for food delivery workers.

But they can’t happen soon enough, even with a newly seated and more progressive City Council. In the meantime, while we dislike eBikes constantly ignoring traffic safety laws, we might consider our roles in this ongoing push and pull for getting our food quickly and cheaply, helping create a desperate underclass of food delivery workers rushing to meet our needs… and earn their unpredictable tips.

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