City Council approves new trade-in program for uncertified e-bike batteries

E-bikes recovered from a fire in Brooklyn in June 2023.
File Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The New York City Council passed a bill Thursday that will see the creation of a first-in-the-nation trade-in program to swap out volatile e-bike batteries with new ones that are certified as safe.

Intro 949A, sponsored by Council Majority Leader Keith Powers (D – Manhattan), aims to reduce the prevalence of deadly, out-of-control fires sparked by the lithium-ion batteries powering e-bikes, which have injured 96 people and killed 14 in New York City so far this year.

“These fires damage homes, they displace families, and lead to far too many devastating injuries and deaths across our city,” Powers said ahead of a vote in the Council’s Fire & Emergency Management Committee Thursday to approve the bill. “And I think we’re all here today with the same goals: to prevent these fires, get unsafe batteries off the streets and out of our homes, and to save lives.”

The legislation comes on the heels of a bill passed this year banning the sale of reassembled e-bike batteries and those not certified as compliant with safety standards from Underwriters Laboratories. These batteries are uniquely dangerous, the Fire Department has warned. The ban is set to go into effect this month.

Under the new bill, those possessing volatile, unlicensed batteries will be able to present them to a city agency and swap them out for safer, certified batteries. The program will allow this swap for free or at a reduced cost, but the rules governing eligibility for a free swap must be drawn up by a city agency. The rules must account for the income and occupation of participants, according to the bill’s text. Those who opt to swap their batteries are prohibited from reselling them for at least a year.

Mayor Adams inspects lithium-ion batteries at the scene of a deadly fire at a Chinatown bike shop in June 2023.File Photo by Dean Moses

The city will also have to undertake a multi-lingual outreach campaign to raise public awareness of the program.

E-bikes have rapidly become a fixture of the city’s streets in recent years. The predominant users of them are tens of thousands of mostly immigrant food delivery workers, though they are also becoming more popular as a commuting option.

But the proliferation of micro-mobility has also coincided with a major increase in deadly, uncontrolled fires caused by the batteries exploding. Injuries from fires caused by lithium-ion battery explosions increased more than 1,000% between 2019 and 2022, from 13 to 147 across the five boroughs, according to Fire Department data.

As officials start to crack down on improper charging of e-bikes, and some landlords ban the devices from their properties, many deliveristas are starting to switch to gas-powered mopeds, even as many of them remain illegal on the streets.

Efforts to establish hubs for delivery workers to safely charge their e-bikes have frequently run into opposition from local community members.

The passage of the trade-in program comes as lawmakers introduce another bill that would require food delivery apps like DoorDash, GrubHub, and Uber Eats to provide safe, certified batteries to their workers. An effort to privately establish a trade-in program, supported by Uber and DoorDash, has seen an extraordinarily low level of uptake.