NYC Council eyes uncertified lithium-ion battery trade-in program for e-bikes

NYC Council considers e-bike battery trade-in program

NEW YORK -- The New York City Council held a hearing Monday on two new proposals to improve the safety of e-bikes and lithium-ion batteries that have caused devastating and fatal fires. 

Faulty e-bike batteries have been blamed for hundreds of fires around the city. This year, there have been 63 such fires, which have killed five people, so far. 

"We are in a crisis mode right now when it comes to the batteries," said Council Member Keith Powers.

Monday morning, FDNY responded to an apartment fire on Sedgwick Avenue and pulled out an e-bike battery. Officials are investigating it as a likely cause. 

Last week, an e-bike battery fire at a home in Queens killed a 7-year-old boy and his 19-year-old sister. An after-market charger was blamed as the cause. 

The council is considering two pieces of legislation, after Mayor Eric Adams signed several e-bike safety bills into law in March. 

One proposal would establish a free or low-cost battery trade-in program. City officials know thousands of low-quality batteries, like refurbished or uncertified ones, are already on the street. So a trade-in program would give people the chance to swap their "bad" batteries for "good" ones. 

 "Creating a program where somebody who has an unsafe, uncertified battery right now can come and trade it and they will get a safe battery," said Powers. 

The second bill would require businesses that use e-bikes to provide workers with fireproof or fire-resistant containers to use while charging removable batteries. But the technology is still being developed. 

"It'd be like a bag to put the charger in, the battery in while it's being charged, and that if it got into thermal runaway and started to burn, that it would not spread from that bag," said FDNY Chief of Fire Operations John Esposito.

"It's to help protect the delivery workers out there that are doing the work that we're asking them to do everyday. But we know how many bikes out there have unsafe batteries. We need to get them off the street," said Powers. 

If and when the technology is developed, Westville Hell's Kitchen, which employees a fleet of e-bike drlivery workers, said they will be on board. 

"We do definitely talk to our own team at least about safety and making sure that they understand why we're putting these rules in place," said restaurant manager Meagan Carino.

The package of bills passed in March included a measure that requires lithium-ion batteries sold in the city to be certified. Another bill made it illegal to refurbish batteries. 

The FDNY is also working on safety and awareness campaigns. Some members are going building-to-building to explain to residents just how dangerous it can be to charge lithium-ion batteries if not done correctly.

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