UPPER WEST SIDE — Police seized 12 electric bikes from six Upper West Side restaurants earlier this month, fining each eatery $500 for using the illegal transportation.
Electric bikes, which are popular among food delivery workers because they're faster than a regular bike, have been illegal to use since 2004. In 2013, the city stiffened fines to up to $250 for each offense. Under the legislation, the restaurants have to pay the fine, not the workers.
"The onus is on the operator of the business," said Capt. Marlon Larin, commanding officer of the 24th Precinct.
On Nov. 5 and Nov. 6, officers from the 24th Precinct conducted an operation targeting e-bike use by delivery workers. In order for them to seize an e-bike, they have to see the bike in use, Larin said.
"It’s not easy to do because the officers are in four-wheel vehicles and these bikes are zipping in and out of traffic," he said.
There were six local restaurants that were fined and had e-bikes seized: Pearls Chinese restaurant at 796 Amsterdam Ave. at West 99th Street; New Kam Lai at 708 Amsterdam Ave at West 94th Street; Chirping Chicken at 940 Amsterdam Ave. at West 106th Street; Miyoko Sushi at 642 Amsterdam Ave. at West 91st Street; and Sookk restaurant at 2686 Broadway.
The sixth restaurant was not immediately identified. It was not clear how many bikes were seized from each restaurant.
While an employee at New Kam Lai, who did not give her name, said the restaurant no longer uses e-bikes, the manager at Chirping Chicken admitted they still did.
"To tell you the truth we still use them," manager Tommy Escobar said.
The e-bikes are helpful because "we have a whole bunch of hills up here," he said.
"Lately, we've been trying to tell our delivery guys to use manual bikes, but it's hard especially because they work until midnight," he said. And delivery service goes all the way up to West 125th Street, he said.
At Miyoko Sushi, only one employee was using an e-bike and he has now switched to a motorcycle, said manager Cora Chee.
"It's not the restaurant's fault. He has to pay the fine," said Chee of the delivery worker.
"If the restaurant pays everything, [workers] can do everything they want," she said of their policy of making the employees pay.
Pearls Chinese and Sookk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The restaurant operators were not happy when they got the fines and the bikes were seized, Larin said. He did not say whether another operation was planned in the near future.
Residents across the city have complained that delivery workers use e-bikes on sidewalks and ride them the wrong way on one-way streets. Locals also say they're hard to see at night, making them particularly dangerous.
Delivery workers who use them have said they're necessary in order to move quickly across city streets in their fast-paced jobs and to keep up with younger workers who can move faster on regular bikes.