How the NYPD’s Scooter Crackdown Beat Down Food Delivery Workers (2024)


“They’re mostly cracking down on people doing deliveries.”

By Mark Healy, a writer and editor in Brooklyn. He’s been an editor at Details, Rolling Stone, and GQ and was editor-in-chief of Men’s Journal.

How the NYPD’s Scooter Crackdown Beat Down Food Delivery Workers (1)

The Erie Basin Impound Lot — the city’s Rikers for scooters — in February, 2024. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Erie Basin Impound Lot — the city’s Rikers for scooters — in February, 2024. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It took delivery worker Eduardo Rodriguez two months, two 90-minute trips (each way) from his home in the Bronx to the city impound lot in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and what he estimates was $8,000 in lost wages and various fines and fees to spring his 1500cc Gusite from city custody after it was seized on Fordham Road.

“This is causing me a lot of pain and suffering,” he tells me. He had been using an e-bike for deliveries, but when it was stolen, he upgraded to a more powerful moped that gave him more speed and distance to better satisfy the increasing demands of the delivery apps. He says he was unaware that since the new one was technically a “Class A moped,” he was now required to have a motorcycle license in addition to registration. “Why no education? We’re trying to do things the right way,” he says. “They could give us a chance. There could be a warning system.”

Rodriguez and his moped were caught up in the city’s aggressive two-year-old crackdown on illegal motorized bikes. The enforcement mandate didn’t come out of nowhere: New York’s pandemic-era streets have often felt a little Mad Max. The streets (and sidewalks) were suddenly swarming with an array of new self-propelled vehicles — from boosted boards and electric scooters to Limes and Revels to motorbikes, both gas-powered and electric — weaving through traffic and sometimes used to commit crimes. When you’re on an unregistered scooter that goes 50 mph, a sidewalk smash and grab becomes easier to get away with. Worse yet, there were even used in drive-by shootings, like the one in the Bronx in April of this year, in which four people were shot, one fatally, by scooter-riding gunmen. Not to mention those roving bands ofATVsand groups of kids doing wheelies on motorbikes.

In the face of this bedlam, Mayor Adams thought clamping down on scooters was a winning political issue. According to a City Hall spokesperson, “They have taken more than 39,000 illegal bikes off city streets” since the city announced stepped-up enforcement efforts in 2022. “And we will continue to remove even more illegal bikes this summer.”

But visiting the Erie Basin Impound Lot, the mile-long pier that serves as the city’s main motor-vehicle jail, you see who’s actually paying the price for these new policies. In late April, it was full of approximately 23,000 motorbikes. (The numbers haven’t changed much since.) On the day I visited, nearly everyone waiting outside the lot, hoping to be reunited with their two-wheeled inmate, was an immigrant— from Ecuador, Turkey, Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Barbados, and Sierra Leone —who has come to rely on the motorized bikes to make a living in a class-divided city that is increasingly composed of people who make deliveries and people who have things delivered to them.

Erie Basin is an institution of nearly impenetrable bureaucratic frustration, with short hours, long waits, rigid protocols, and a steady stream of dashed hopes. Naturally, its effects are visited disproportionately on those like Rodriguez who have few other options.

They arrive armed with newly minted registrations and drivers licenses, violation letters, proof of insurance, and vehicle ID numbers. They’ve called the phone numbers and followed precinct instructions and come here to discover that the fate of their motorbike is determined not by the efforts or expense they dedicated to navigate a byzantine, big city bureaucracy but by the sheer number of bikes. Even owners who show up with all the correct paperwork and payments often have to come back a week or more later because it takes seven to ten days for the NYPD to even locate a specific bike from their massive trove.

Fewer than half of the bikes will ever be successfully reclaimed. The rest are destroyed. Every second Thursday of the month a batch of the condemned are loaded onto flatbeds and driven out to some undisclosed Long Island location and demolished.

On the first day of summer 2022, Mayor Eric Adams declared war on illegal motorbikes. He held a press conference at none other than Erie Basin, where he vowed to rid city streets of the two-wheeled scourge. “Today, as we stand in the shadow of the Freedom Tower” — visible across the harbor — “we are freeing ourselves from these destructive pieces of machinery that’s on our streets.” Then the mayor, never one to pass up on an opportunity for theatrics, waved a checkered flag, and a bulldozer proceeded to roll back and forth over a row of nearly a hundred seized bikes, crunching them down to shards of plastic and cheap foreign metal, which Adams said would be recycled. “They will be crushed today … so that they can never terrorize our city again.”

“They were really a nuisance to New Yorkers,” says Kaz Daughtry, NYPD’s deputy commissioner of operations, “motorbikes and scooters zipping in and out of traffic. I mean, guys that were 50 to 100 deep with these ATVs, dirt bikes, and scooters. It was almost kind of like that mob mentality where they were running New York City, doing whatever they wanted to do.”

To step up enforcement, the NYPD deployed its Community Response Team and now uses whatever tools it can to combat mobility mayhem: drones, air support, monitoring social media. The cops have the numbers to back up how busy they’ve been. Between June 20, 2022, and May 28, 2024, the NYPD says its seized 39,118 motorbikes, ATVs, dirt bikes, mopeds, and scooters. And it seems the campaign is just hitting its stride. So far this year, the NYPD has already seized 12,613.

But while the initiative once promised to rid the streets of illegal ATVs and bands of lawless teens doing wheelies down busy streets, the recent seizure numbers tell a different story. Of the vehicles seized this year, there were two dirt bikes and 46 ATVs; there were 9,548 scooters/mopeds.

Which means a clampdown originally designed to curb pandemic-era street havoc is now mostly just harassing immigrants just trying to get around town and make a living.

Mohammad, who is from Guinea, had owned his motorbike for just five minutes when it was seized at a blockade at a pedestrian bridge near 170th Street where, he says, the cops lie in wait. “That’s all they do,” he says. “As soon as you come off the bridge, they’re stationed right there. A lot of bikes get taken there.” Mohammad says the Grand Concourse store where he bought it had given him a temporary registration the police said was invalid. He made three trips to the 44th Precinct to attempt to retrieve the bike, which was then inexplicably sent to Queens where he also went to retrieve the bike, which was finally sent here to Erie Basin, an hourlong Uber ride from his home in the Bronx. It took 25 days to get it back.

Samet and Adam, who moved from Turkey eight months ago, were asleep in their Sunnyside, Queens, apartment when their unregistered motorbikes were towed. It took them two months and close to a thousand dollars in fines and fees and registration costs to get them back.

Edwin, who is Colombian and works selling Air Jordans on the sidewalk on Roosevelt Avenue, was stopped in the bike lane of the Queensboro Bridge while giving his wife a ride to work. It also took him 25 days to get the motorbike back, but he’s not bitter about the experience. He says, “My wife can take the train to work.”

Brooklyn native Jeffrey Cunningham wasn’t sure he even needed to have his bike registered. “When I purchased the bike two years ago, they weren’t clear about what kind of documentation I’d need. They said the cops were going to harass you either way, so I didn’t bother.” But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t conscientious and (mostly) law-abiding. “I’m not going around robbing people or hitting cars or driving with no insurance.”

Cunningham says he was making $1,400 a week making deliveries for the apps when he was stopped at a red light in Manhattan. He estimates it took about three grand and repeated trips to Erie Basin to get it back. “There’s a whole bunch of money I had to spend to go through this. So much goddamn money I could have just gone and bought another bike.”

And then, of course there’s Rodriguez, the delivery worker from the Bronx who says he was unaware of the registration requirements when his bike was seized on Fordham Road in February. It landed him in jail where he says he was among eight men held in the Bronx’s 52nd Precinct, all immigrants making food deliveries. “No rapists, no murderers, no thieves,” he says. “All scooters.” Rodriguez thinks his arrest was part of a retaliatory crackdown after a group of immigrants allegedly attacked police officers in Times Square on January 27. Commissioner Daughtry disputes this. “That’s 100 percent not true,” he says.

In fact, Daughtry says his Community Response Team is instructed to take a softer approach to delivery workers. “We want to show some empathy to the food-service workers,” he says, adding that officers often ask to see the apps delivery workers are using as proof. “But if you’re riding in a roving band of 50, 60 guys trying to do a DMX video down Fifth Avenue, those guys get no empathy from this department.”

Mohammad says he understands the need for the crackdown. “During the pandemic there was a time when there was a lot of robberies on scooters, at least in the Bronx. But it just went overboard on the crackdown. They’re mostly cracking down on people doing deliveries.”

William Medina, a delivery worker who is part of Los Deliveristas Unidos, an organization of delivery workers featured in a 2021 New York Magazine cover story, says delivery workers not only have to contend with the persistent threat of robberies, they also have to contend with the police.

“We suffer robberies every single day,” he says, “but the police keep chasing delivery workers. Any model will get a ticket, and they’ll take the motorcycle to the precinct. I know a driver who got a ticket for not wearing goggles.” He says he knows someone who got a summons because he had a key chain dangling from his bike. “A f*cking key chain!”

On top of all that, Medina says, delivery workers are subject to the whims of the delivery apps, whose ever-optimizing algorithms forced many delivery workers to ditch their battery-boosted bicycles for the motorbikes they now need to deliver longer distances in order to satisfy the app. “We now have to travel five or six miles from the restaurant,” Medina says. “And if you don’t fulfill the order, you’re gonna get a strike in the application. If you have a bad rating in the app, you’re not going to get access to the schedule.” Rodriguez, who delivers in the Bronx, says he routinely gets requests to go to White Plains and Scarsdale, destinations that are only revealed after he accepts the delivery. Reneging on a delivery offer — even one to Westchester — hurts a worker’s rating and can impact the deliveries he’s offered in the future.

DoorDash spokesman Eli Scheinholtz says that Dashers, as they’re called, can control their own delivery radius. “If a Dasher doesn’t want to travel any further than two miles, it’s very much within their bounds to set it to that.” Scheinholtz does concede that there’s an acceptance rate metric in the DoorDash app but says that it doesn’t punish Dashers who pass up longer deliveries and also points outthat workers can set their app settings to avoid traveling over bridges. Still, DoorDash (which was the only app that returned requests for comment) maintains a complex New York–specific rewards program that incentivizes Dashers to accept and deliver to wherever they’re requested when they’re requested.

Last December, changes to the app and the awards program were implemented in response to the city’s first-ever enforcement of a minimum wage for app-based delivery workers. (It just increased again to $19.56 an hour.) With every victory comes a reset in policy from the delivery apps, which Medina says are programmed to squeeze every bit of value from delivery workers’ hourly wage.

“Now they have to do faster, or they have to do more, because they have to pay for their time. You have to travel far distances, like from Jamaica to Brooklyn. New York City is huge. You have to risk your life in the street to complete one delivery in 30 minutes six or seven miles. If you complete it in 45 minutes, you’re going to get a strike. They deactivate your account in retaliation. DoorDash, they don’t care. They care about their customers, but they don’t care about the workers.”

DoorDash offers discounts on select electric mopeds but not the faster motorbike models now favored by their New York Dashers. In fact, it seems to exist in another universe from the real considerations of New York delivery workers. Certainly it(as well as Postmates and Uber Eats and every other app) seems oblivious to the consumption process of the motorbikes that pass through Erie Basin — a cycle of disposability that begins with the assembly of imported parts into working vehicles, which are sold, seized, returned, or, more likely, destroyed, only to be replaced so the cycle can begin again.

Among thedominant brands of motorbikes right now is Fly E, a company based in Flushing, Queens, founded in 2018 that imports its bike parts from China, assembles them here, andhas more than 30 dealerships in the city. As its website says, “Our niche market is predominantly food-delivery workers who need to get around the city without any delays.” Their mopeds sell for between $1,200 for the Fly-7 up to $4,500 for the faster, sturdierFTC Max. Multiple financing options are available.

It’s approaching noon, closing time at Erie Basin, and the few people here are beginning to drift off defeated. But not everyone here is sympathetic to the owners of these illegal bikes held captive at Erie Basin. “It’s lawless,” says Kevin Hurley, who was born in Barbados and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. “Half of them don’t have insurance, he says. “They’re running stop signs, they are on the sidewalk. People get hurt. The police are doing a good job to be honest with you.”

Hurley’s not here to retrieve a motorbike. He is a man with a van, which makes him the guy to call when your bike gets seized in his Flatbush neighborhood. He charges 50 bucks to come down here and cart out a retrieved motorbike, which is reasonable compared to local tow trucks. It’s just a side hustle for Hurley but gets a lot of calls. “It’s crazy,” he says of the city’s crackdown. “It’s a business. They take your bike. They charge you. They leave you here too long. So who does the money go to? The city. The city wants that money. That’s all.”


  • erie basin impound lot
  • eric adams
  • doordash
  • delivery apps
  • deliverance
  • More

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How the NYPD’s Scooter Crackdown Beat Down Delivery Workers
How the NYPD’s Scooter Crackdown Beat Down Food Delivery Workers (2024)


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