When electric bikes first surfaced in the late 2000s in New York City, they were mostly ridden by aging Chinese immigrants trying to keep their jobs delivering food, writes Josh Dzieza at the Verge. However, once restaurants and delivery apps realized the time they could save, the bikes morphed into essential tools of the trade. Anyone who aims to scrape together a living delivering takeout in the city needs an e-bike. A base model might cost $1,800, but by the time a rider equips it with gear necessary for the job (phone-charging mounts, lights, an extra battery, etc.) the cost can easily eclipse $2,500 and approach $3,000. Which leads to this startling stat in Dzieza's in-depth look at the industry: 54% of NYC delivery workers have had a bike stolen, and 30% of those robberies were violent, according to the Worker's Justice Project.
Having a bike stolen can be financially devastating to workers making a base pay of under $8 an hour after expenses. Plus, it deprives them of their main tool to recoup that money. Reporting thefts to the NYPD often goes nowhere, and Dzieza writes that the riders are now banding together to protect themselves. For example, at one particularly dangerous stretch, the Willis Avenue Bridge connecting Manhattan and the Bronx, a system has emerged in which riders meet up and cross only in small groups. They also keep an eye out for thieves and spread the word, which sometimes results in a group of delivery workers gathering to confront a suspect to get a bike back. That kind of unity is spreading to other facets of the job, including how the riders deal with the punishing demands of apps such as Uber, DoorDash, and Relay. (The full story, headlined "Revolt of the Delivery Workers," is an eye-opener.)