When Emanuel Ponze, 24, woke up one fine June morning, he was in good spirits. He had spent the night watching movies and drinking beer with his brothers and a few friends, a well-deserved break from the 50-60 hour weeks he worked as a delivery boy for Doordash. When Ponze left his brother’s apartment in the Bronx to return home to his wife, he realized that his moped was missing.
Like most delivery people, Ponze had feared that his moped might one day be stolen, so he fitted a GPS tracker to the machine. He was able to follow him to the local police station, the 41st. When he arrived, the desk sergeant informed him that his moped was illegal because it was not properly registered. The police confiscated the vehicle without the possibility of Ponze recovering it.
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“I said okay, but you won’t give me a receipt?” If it weren’t for the GPS, I wouldn’t know where the moped is,” he said.
Ponze’s experience is far from unique. The delivery men say the NYPD unfairly targeted them by seizing their mopeds without any recourse and ultimately getting them back. Some mopeds are taken in the middle of the night or when delivery people are making a delivery. Responding to delivery workers’ concerns, some New York lawmakers are hoping to change that.
In June, Mayor Adams and the NYPD announcement the summer 2022 motorcycle plan, which aims to crack down on illegal dirt bikes and ATVs that have become commonplace on city streets. To commemorate the crackdown, the mayor thoughtlessly supervised a bulldozer crushing confiscated vehicles on a Brooklyn pier. Yet many delivery riders, unaware that their mopeds are not legal, report that they have been targeted in the crackdown.
Under New York right, all mopeds require a driver’s license to operate and must be registered with the DMV. Only e-bikes are allowed to drive without a driver’s license. The problem is that many delivery people are unaware that they need a license to ride a moped, because many stores that sell electric bikes also sell petrol mopeds and do not require proof of a driver’s license at the time of delivery. ‘purchase.
Many are choosing to buy gas-powered mopeds instead of e-bikes due to widespread concerns about the safety of e-bike lithium-ion batteries, as there have been numerous fires associated with exploding batteries. The New York City Fire Department reported that he had investigated nearly 70 fires linked to e-bike batteries.
Even though delivery people knew it was illegal to ride a moped without a license, for many undocumented workers, obtaining a driver’s license could be a daunting task. Although undocumented immigrants can now obtain their driver’s license in New York, the process is still smooth as many undocumented immigrants struggle to obtain all the documents needed to obtain a permit.
Several delivery people Documented spoke to said their moped had been confiscated or it had happened to people they knew. The social media groups delivery people use to share information with each other are filled with posts asking for help and videos showing police confiscating mopeds. None was ever warned of the law before his moped was seized.
The repression weighed heavily in the minds of delivery men in the five boroughs.
At the Ortiz Funeral Home in East Harlem, members of the NYC Food Delivery Movement, a self-help organization headed by a delivery man, organized the funeral of Tiburcio Castillo, one of four delivery workers killed last week. Sergio Solan, a delivery man and president and co-founder of the NYC Food Delivery Movement, an advocacy and self-help organization run by delivery workers, said the crackdown was adding even more stress to an already dangerous occupation. Solan says the NYPD confiscated mopeds from delivery people on a daily basis, forcing many of them to find other jobs, but he saw motorcyclists proliferate.
The New York City Public Advocate’s Office condemned the crackdown for unfairly targeting delivery workers and called on the mayor to take an education-based approach.
“Delivery workers rely on their vehicles to pay rent, buy food and support their families,” said Kashif Hussain, deputy public defender for environmental justice and infrastructure. “We need a multilingual public education campaign explaining that mopeds must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles, followed by a grace period, before confiscating other vehicles.”
Alejandro Bazen was driving his unregistered moped with delivery slips when he was stopped by a group of police officers on 80th Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan. He was escorted off the street and his vehicle placed alongside a long line of other confiscated mopeds collected throughout the day. With his limited English, Bazen was confused.
“I didn’t know it was illegal,” he said. “They explained it to me in English but there was no one to translate. I had an idea of what they were saying but I didn’t quite understand.
Police issued seven tickets to Bazen, ranging from $98 to $183, and his moped was confiscated without police issuing any sort of document. He was forced to return the food he delivered to the restaurant and took the train back to the Bronx. Officers told Bazen that if he registered his vehicle with the DMV, he could get his moped back. Yet when he went to the DMV, they told him that the paperwork he received upon purchase was invalid. Unable to afford a new one, he bought his second moped with a friend’s credit card for $2,000, and he’s still making payments. Now he fears he won’t be able to earn enough to support his wife and child.
“They took food from my family’s table,” he said.
Antonio Solis, a Queens delivery man and member of Los Deliveristas Unidos, says that since June more than 30 workers have told him the NYPD confiscated their mopeds. Many of them were caught in the middle of the night or during traffic stops. In many cases he has seen, Solis says mopeds were legal.
Even if the drivers have documents for the vehicle, “[the NYPD] put the mopeds on trucks and take them off them,” he said.
Ligia Guallpa, director of the Workers Justice Project, has also seen a significant increase in the number of its members seeking help because their mopeds have been confiscated by the police.
“There are mopeds that aren’t supposed to be on the streets and I know the NYPD is targeting them,” she said. “When they target these mopeds sometimes the police confuse which one is illegal and which is not illegal and they target them all.”
Part of the confusion is also that many delivery people are unaware that mopeds are illegal as they are regularly sold throughout the city alongside e-bikes.
When New York State legalized electric bikes in 2020 as part of an effort led by Senator Jessica Ramos, part of the law required the city to provide widespread education on what is legal to ride and what is not. However, in light of recent crackdowns, Astrid Aune, communications director for Senator Jessica Ramos, says the City is unfairly penalizing delivery people without fully implementing a public education campaign.
“It’s the City’s responsibility to do public education to make sure it’s properly implemented,” she said. “So it seems a bit punitive to just confiscate when there has been little to educate the public about the rules. It’s people’s livelihood.
Councilman Christopher Marte agrees and pledged to look at possible legislative solutions that would not overly penalize delivery workers who may be unaware of the laws or find it difficult to comply with them because of their immigration status.
“It’s frustrating because I can see how someone’s only source of income could be changed to thinking they’re complying without education or warning,” he said. “What I can do is see if there is anything we can introduce to help these workers whether they are dealers need to give clear notice of their rights before buying a moped .
Neither the NYPD nor the mayor’s office responded to requests for comment on this story.
“We are working closely with the NYPD and labor coalitions to ensure law enforcement is focused on the companies selling these illegal mopeds – not the delivery people trying to make a living,” said Vincent Barone, a DOT spokesperson. “It is illegal to sell these mopeds in New York City and we remind agency partners of this enforcement strategy during the crackdown on dirt bikes.”
As he watched the video of the mayor happily rounding up mopeds and dirt bikes, Emanuel Ponze worries about the language used by the mayor.
“They show mopeds they take from the workers and say it’s the criminals, but most of them belong to the delivery people,” he said.
Almost a month has passed and Ponze still hasn’t heard from the NYPD. From time to time, he checks his GPS and sees that he is still at the 41st arrondissement. He’s willing to accept that he can no longer ride a moped but wishes he could give it back to him so he can salvage whatever he can from it.
“Okay, it’s illegal but let me get it back so I can sell it to someone who can use it,” he said.
During this time, he is constantly looking for a new job, but has not found any luck.
“No one is hiring right now. It’s a difficult thing.