Food delivery drivers 'scared, on edge' over new $2,000 fines

A food delivery driver says a police crackdown on illegal e-bikes in NSW is putting workers "on edge", with many not knowing if their bikes are non-compliant.

Police have confirmed to Yahoo News they have been patrolling the Sydney CBD to educate riders on the risks of having an e-bike that exceeds speeds of 25km/h, as well as other illegal features. They have been handing out fines upwards of $700 in the process.

The Sydney delivery driver, who would like to remain anonymous, told Yahoo News he noticed a change in recent interactions with police when it comes to e-bike use.

"For the past two or so years I've done delivery riding and only in the last 2-3 months has there been an issue," he said.

A food delivery driver on an e-bike in Sydney.
NSW Police have been patrolling the Sydney CBD for illegal e-bike use, including fining riders with non-compliant bikes. Source: Getty

He claimed most food delivery drivers who have been stopped "don’t know their bikes were not compliant".

"It's putting people off work. Delivery riders are very on edge because they're scared about being stopped by police.

"We’re just trying to make a living.

"A lot of these delivery riders don’t speak English, so they get very nervous and sometimes they can be slapped with $750 or $2000 fines."

He also claimed police are "singling out people".

"If a food delivery rider is on a footpath, and there's a normal cyclist, the police will ignore and not say anything to the cyclist, but they'll pick the food delivery rider," he said.

How to check if your e-bike is non compliant?

Jules Flynn, COO of e-bike subscription company Zoomo, said there are a number of red flags for riders to look out for when trying to determine whether an e-bike is legal. These include:

  • Throttle powered (pedalling not required)

  • Motor unlimited to more than 25km/h

  • Low-quality brakes — increasing risk of injury or death

  • Exposed and non-certified batteries — high risk of water damage and battery fires

  • Weak lighting systems

One of the defects of an illegal e-bike is a battery that is prone to water damage and explosion. Source: Zoomo
One of the defects of an illegal e-bike is a battery that is prone to water damage and explosion. Source: Zoomo

He also said "non-compliant e-bikes pose a serious safety risk to riders both when using and at home when charging".

For example, several illegal e-bike chargers have been known to cause fires, and cheap and non-integrated lights have a 25 per cent monthly likelihood of breaking.

Study shows e-bike riders unaware of bike's status

Zoomo has estimated that more than half of e-bike deliveries happen on illegal e-bikes in Sydney, but not many riders are aware of that fact.

"We are seeing suppliers across Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne selling non-compliant e-bikes in physical storefronts that your everyday person would stroll into and assume are road legal," Mr Flynn said.

"These suppliers are actively targeting food delivery riders through advertisements, and directly on their company websites."

"They don’t provide information on the differences between illegal and legal vehicles, which is hugely misleading, and is resulting in courier riders getting slapped with significant fines upwards of $700."

"For many couriers where delivery is their sole income, these fines and the money tied up in what a courier discovers may be an illegal bike can significantly impact livelihoods."

A broken light cable on a legal e-bike.
A broken light cable on a legal bike. Non-compliant e-bikes are prone to the problem due to weaker and exposed lighting systems. Source: Zoomo

Suppliers should be getting punished, Zoomo says

The e-bike subscription company believes providers should be held accountable and the current enforcement is "mis-targeted."

"Whilst we endorse any coordinated effort to limit the uptake of illegal vehicles on our roads, the focus needs to shift to accountability for retailers acting in bad faith, and away from punishing the riders," Mr Flynn said.

"The sale of illegal, and not to mention, unsafe, e-bikes should be stopped at the supplier. It is crucial that suppliers step up and start taking responsibility for their actions."

"They are knowingly selling and distributing these vehicles, putting food delivery riders, pedestrians, and other road users at risk."

Yahoo News Australia has reached out to Transport NSW for comment.

E-bike usage is on the rise

According to Bicycle NSW, the number of e-bikes in NSW has risen over the pandemic, which they say in part is because of an increased reliance on on-demand food delivery companies, whose riders often favour the e-bike as their form of transportation.

In response to the growing popularity and the need to safely manage e-bike use, Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport, Rob Stokes, announced this month Transport NSW will enable a 12-month trial of e-scooter shared schemes.

Councils are invited to request to participate in the trial.

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