By Scott Etkin
Following a two-hour discussion over Zoom on Tuesday evening, the Community Board 7 Transportation and Parks & Environment Committees passed a resolution against the proposed hub for deliveristas — the workers who use electric bicycles to make food deliveries — on the traffic island between W. 71st and W. 72nd Streets and Broadway. The resolution will next go to the full community board for a vote, then onto the appropriate government agencies, where it will be taken under advisement. (See our discussion of cb resolutions here.)
In October 2022, Mayor Eric Adams and Senator Charles Schumer announced that $1 million in federal funds would be allocated to build three rest stops/charging stations across the city, including one at a defunct newsstand on the traffic island south of the 72nd Street 1/2/3 subway station, for delivery workers who operate as independent contractors for apps like DoorDash and GrubHub.
The majority of speakers who joined the Zoom call on Tuesday night – from both the public and CB7 – voiced objections to the hub in the name of safety, saying it would bring more traffic to an already overcrowded intersection.
The committees decided in a vote (9 in favor of rejecting the hub, 4 against and 2 abstentions) that the location would be “wholly inappropriate for an e-bike charging station and rest area due to vehicular and pedestrian congestion, and the fire risk posed by an assemblage of electric bikes charging in one location.” The resolution concludes by urging “the Mayor’s office to consider an alternate location for the e-bike Hub.”
It was 6:30pm on Valentine’s Day when the Zoom meeting started, but there was no romance in the cards. Before the call started, 203 members of the public submitted testimony to the committees, of which 177 were “overwhelmingly negative,” said Parks & Environment Committee co-chair Natasha Kazmi.
The call began with a brief presentation by the Worker’s Justice Project (WJP), which supports the Delivery Workers United labor group. Representatives explained how the hub would be used not only as a charging station for e-bikes, but also as a venue to educate delivery workers about how to charge their lithium-ion batteries and navigate the streets safely. It’s common for delivery workers to drive for 12 hours a day for around $7.87 per hour, well below the $15 minimum wage in NYC.
Dozens of residents were then given a chance to share their opinions. While many expressed their support and appreciation for delivery workers, saying they perform an essential service and deserve safe and fair working conditions, most speakers were against the hub at the proposed location. Using the traffic island on W. 72nd Street as the spot for the hub would be a hazard for the thousands of people who cross the intersection every day, they said. The traffic island* is already too congested with people, cars, buses, and bikes; the addition of the hub would make it especially unsuitable for seniors and children.
The proposed hub “would make a dangerous intersection even worse,” said Caroline Contiguglia, a representative from the 71st Street Block Association. Several residents said more focus should be on enforcing the rules for driving e-bikes, which are often unlicensed and unidentifiable. Many said they were afraid to cross the street because of e-bikes going too fast or not stopping at red lights.
Another common refrain during the meeting was that the proposal lacked details. The hub is in its early stages of development, so representatives from Worker’s Justice Project did not have answers to questions such as: how many chargers the station would have, how many workers would use the station, and how long it would take each bike to charge. The WJP said they were committed to working with the community to find solutions that addressed their concerns.
“We need a lot more information,” said Rita Genn, a representative from the West 72nd Street Block Association, who said they would be open to discussing a different location that worked for everyone’s needs. Several speakers from the public suggested alternatives, including Columbus Circle, vacant storefronts, Citi Bike docks, and parking spaces.
Other speakers expressed exasperation that public funds and space were being used to subsidize a service (supporting delivery workers) that should be the responsibility of the tech companies that run the delivery apps. Deliveristas work as independent contractors, so they’re not considered full employees of these companies.
No representatives attended the meeting from any of the major delivery service companies – DoorDash (which owns Caviar), GrubHub (which owns Seamless), Uber Eats (which owns Postmates), and Relay. GrubHub did send WSR an email stating that it “is grateful to the City and federal government for its support of our delivery partners with these new worker hubs, and…ready to work with them in any way we can to make sure this initiative is implemented and expanded successfully.”
The proposed delivery hub, if implemented, would be the first of its kind in the country. But it faces many hurdles, not the least of which is push-back from the community.
*The proposed location for the hub is south of Verdi Square. There is another vacant structure, which used to be a Le Pain Quotidien cafe, near the north Subway entrance, which is not being considered as part of the proposal.