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Editorial: The e-bike batteries crisis — more must be done

The tragic e-bike fire in the Two Bridges/Chinatown neighborhood last month cast a renewed spotlight on the dangers of unregulated e-bike batteries. More to the point, it put a focus on an entire unregulated industry — namely, restaurant and food app deliveries.

These deliveries, usually by e-bike or e-scooter, sometimes by gas-powered mopeds — increasingly rarely by actual pedal-powered bicycles — have exploded in recent years. They have added a new layer of often-chaotic whizzing traffic on the streets — and in our bike lanes. Far more dangerously, the lithium-ion batteries for these e-bikes also sometimes — and sometimes is too often — literally violently explode, with deadly consequences.

So far in 2023, lithium-ion batteries — including the June 20 fire on Madison Street that killed four residents due to smoke inhalation — have caused 108 fires, leading to 13 deaths and 66 injuries, according to the Fire Department.

The main culprit, we’re told, is e-bike batteries that are not UL certified, so-called aftermarket and refurbished batteries, usually ones that are damaged or overcharged. But the delivery workers — who are scraping by, zooming around frantically to earn a living wage — are naturally going to go for the cheapest batteries they can find.

Councilmember Christopher Marte, theoretically, is right to call on the delivery apps themselves to ensure that the workers’ equipment is safe. However, technically, the “deliveristas” are contracted workers, so we’re not sure how enforceable that would be.

Of course, the city, at one point, did move to require restaurant delivery workers — meaning those who work for specific restaurants, not for an app — to carry ID, wear reflective vests and the like. Yet, coincidentally — or perhaps not — soon after that, the delivery apps emerged, removing the restaurants from liability.

At the end of the day, though, the onus is on the city to regulate this industry, something it has not done a very good job of up until now.

After the deadly Madison Street fire, Mayor Adams and Fire Commissioner Kavanagh announced some immediate changes to increase safety. Putting responsibility on residents and customers, they said they should call 3-1-1 if they see dangerous conditions in e-bike shops — such as e-batteries being charged within 3 feet of each other or being charged with extension cords, e-bikes blocking store entrances and the like.

They also said that, after receiving a 3-1-1 call reporting a dangerous condition in an e-bike store, firefighters would respond to the scene more rapidly — within 12 hours instead of 72 hours, the previous window.

That’s actually not very reassuring, though, since it’s only a relative increase in safety. As the mayor himself has said, these e-batteries — at least the uncertified kind — literally burst into fire like nothing we’ve seen before, and then the flames spread alarmingly quickly.

Making things worse, the volatile, high-energy power packs can keep igniting, even after being extinguished by firefighters, as happened a couple of times after the Madison Street fire.

One of the most important things that we’re not hearing is any mention of a residential ban on e-bike shops in residential buildings. That seems to be a no-brainer to us. How many more of these incidents do we have to see? In December 2021, two teens at the Riis Houses in the East Village had to shimmy four stories down a pipe outside their building to escape a raging inferno in their apartment sparked by e-bike batteries. Their mother was severely burned and her boyfriend, who allegedly repaired e-bikes, perished.

And now, as of April, New York City is allowing e-bikes on subways, buses and commuter rails. …

We have an extremely serious crisis on our hands with these devastatingly flammable e-batteries. A growing number of residential buildings are banning e-bikes in apartments, and the New York City Housing Authority has prudently banned home-based e-bike repair businesses. The mayor must do more to lead the way: For starters, the city must immediately ban e-bike stores and repair shops in residential buildings.

We also strongly support a package of five new laws passed in March by the City Council that, among other things, bans the sale of non-UL-certified, second-hand or refurbished e-batteries. Another of the new laws calls for the Fire Department to create a public-service awareness campaign on safe batteries and best practices. We want to start hearing and seeing those campaigns soon — just like we currently hear the city’s ones cajoling us to eat more tofu and black beans. Another one of the new regulations calls for the city to create materials on e-bike safety to be distributed by apps like Grubhub and Uber Eats to their delivery workers.

Yes, it’s important that delivery workers continue to be able to make a living — and it’s critical (yeah, right) that people be able to get their burgers, tacos and smoothies delivered to them in a flash at a touch of their smartphone screens — but not at the expense of these devastating and often fatal fires. It’s about priorities. We are glad that Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, for one, has spoken out strongly for increasing regulations on e-bike batteries.

These new laws, however, won’t kick in until a few months from now — plus, don’t do anything about all the dangerous e-bike batteries that are already out there. And most e-bike delivery guys reportedly carry three batteries on them to keep them speeding around through their workday. A buyback program for these volatile batteries is essential.

In the wake of the Madison Street tragedy, the city recently announced that, under a $25 million program, it will be installing e-bike charging stations outside NYCHA complexes — which is safer, at least, since if the batteries explode, at least it’s outdoors, not inside someone’s apartment.


  1. Amina Amina July 4, 2023

    We need to organize at this point. Follow NYC E Vehicle Safety Alliance on twitter. @nyc_evsa

    • Janet S Janet S July 5, 2023

      Follow @nyc_evsa on Twitter and email them at

      Note that Twitter has _ and email is –

  2. jackDog jackDog July 4, 2023

    The origin of this lawless behavior resides during the Bloomberg administration with Transportation Alternatives.Then DOT Commissioner Sadik Khan publicly acknowledged that TA was her brain trust. TA prevailed on Mayor Bloomberg to withhold enforcement by the NYPD on the rogue non-law-abiding bike riders. Why? Because the”More riders on the street — the safer the streets” This was a deft twofer — undermine the NYPD — job enforcement. Follow an irrational and empirically false bit of sophistry to widesread lawbreaking and daily danger to the public… Mayor “Dollar Bill” de Blasio complied with the Not For Profit/Lobbyist bike visionaries and continued to withhold enforcement and exacerbate danger. Current Mayor Adams — the ex-cop — more than has his hands full — yet once more ignores enforcement.

    It is said the Bloomberg went along with the “visionaries” because he wanted to attract the Tech Industry. And techies like to ride bikes. No enforcement, no hindrance to ride as you will. Chaos ensues. The tech industry is a major driver of chaos.

    The politicians who have gone along to get along are deplorable. Reprehensible. Morally and professionally craven. You don’t have to be
    blind to be aware of the ongoing danger. In fact the ADA community is rising up, along with a bevy of the public who have reached the tipping point.

    We are mad as hell and not going to take it any more.”

    • ali ali July 4, 2023

      The bicycle lobby is hugely supportive of Bloomberg — and unconcerned that he has a huge carbon footprint (homes all over, private plane, etc); that Bloomberg enabled massive high-rise development in NYC, which is a contributor to emissions & climate change; and that Bloomberg unleashed Uber, which is a big reason for NYC’s congestion (not to mention Uber’s exploitation of gig drivers).

      And Sadik-Khan jets all over the world to discuss how cars are bad for the environment. LOL.

  3. Barbara Ruether Barbara Ruether July 3, 2023

    Oh, I wish to thank you for the e-bike editorial. Well said and much needed.

  4. Barbara Ruether Barbara Ruether July 3, 2023

    If seems that the growth of fatalities and damages due to e-batteries’ use exploded with the fast-food deliveries explosion. Perhaps people should reconsider how great the need is for fast food and return to the same time of delivery with plain bicycle delivery timing. Stop the use of e-bikes until their usage is truly regulated and safe. (And keep tips the same or more, even if delivery takes longer) I agree with the editorial that the City has not done much really. I just mourn the useless deaths, and burn-victim survivors who have also been expelled from their homes and neighborhoods. What of the lung damage that has and is occurring with firemen and firewomen who must battle the intense fires, without recourse? Lives damaged for the future. The whole situation, frankly, makes me very angry because the powers that be have refused to act to save life…

  5. Ala Ala July 3, 2023

    So many issues and worries here.

    What’s really ironic – City Dept. of Transportation has been pushing use of Citibike, bicycling and micromobility devices in its messaging and focusing policy, funding and expansion

    Bicycling siphons from MTA bus and subway ridership.
    Basically the City is sabotaging MTA bus and subway.

    • Susan Susan July 3, 2023

      Exactly! Which tells you something about the power of the lobbyists shilling for the delivery app companies! The loss of fares from those riding rented citibikes and delivery e-bikes and scooters is why the MTA made a positively insane change to allow e-vehicles on buses and subways. It’s the most irresponsible and dangerous rule I have ever heard the MTA make. The MTA needs new management and in a hurry!

      • Jay Crockett Jay Crockett July 4, 2023


    • evi evi July 5, 2023

      City DOT has even implemented Open Streets (which benefit bicyclists and restaurants) on streets with bus routes and so the MTA is forced to detour buses.

      That is a hardship for people who are in the most need.
      It also causes confusion and lack of faith in bus transit.

      Who would have ever thought that the City would prioritize bicycles over mass transit?

  6. Stephen DiLauro Stephen DiLauro July 3, 2023

    The answer is to make the delivery app technocrats, who rely on unsafe behavior for their profits, liable for the delivery vehicles.
    The behavior of the “deliveristas” is outrageous. I have been hit 3 times, all while acting within the law as a pedestrian.
    One cop told me that Mayor Adams has told NYPD to stand down regarding traffic violations by the delivery riders.
    One thing is for sure: It’s called a sidewalk, not a sideride.

  7. redbike redbike July 3, 2023

    “At the end of the day, though, the onus is on the city to regulate this industry, something it has not done a very good job of up until now.”


    NYC can’t do squat about this. Contrast / compare: FedEx and UPS and USPS ‘deliveristas’ don’t buy / own / maintain their trucks.

    The burden is on the NY State legislature to amend NY State’s labor law(s) to define the status of ‘deliveristas’ as employees, not independent contractors. It should be the employers (the delivery apps) who are responsible for buying and maintaining the equipment – in this case, the mostly-motorized bikes and batteries.

    “One of the most important things that we’re not hearing is any mention of a residential ban on e-bike shops in residential buildings.”

    On this, you’re correct. NYCHA tried and failed to ban e-bike batteries – both charging and storage – in NYCHA apartments.

    In addition to the danger, most NYCHA residents aren’t billed for the electricity they consume. It’s included in their rent. Which is to say: taxpayers are subsidizing the charging of e-bike batteries in NYCHA apartments. On this, NYC *can* do something: reinstate the ban on e-bike batteries in NYCHA buildings.

    However, banning e-bike batteries in residential buildings is … tricky. Folks with mobility issues rely on similar devices, and ADA protects access to these devices. More broadly, lots of folks rely on lots of devices powered by batteries using the same chemistry. Formulating a ban that appropriately targets the offending perilous devices and yet allows devices that are (somewhat) safe will be … tricky.

    “…bans the sell of non-UL-certified, second-hand or refurbished e-batteries.”

    You want a nifty shiny label that looks like ‘UL-Certified’? No problem.

    The only solution: the delivery apps – not the ‘deliveristas’ must be responsible for buying and maintaining the hardware.

    Not mentioned in your editorial: complaints (some justified, but many hand-wringing) about how ‘deliveristas’ operate their bikes. Sure, they’re responsible for their behavior, but see how far complaining about it gets you. If they were employees of the delivery apps, the apps *would* be responsible for their employees’ behavior — just like FedEx, UPS, and USPS. And whoever’s providing the delivery apps’ liability insurance would be *VERY* concerned about both the hardware, its maintenance, and how the bikes are operated.

    The problem is complex. The solution is simple: define the status of ‘deliveristas’ as employees. Right. Now you tell one….

    • Mark Mandell Mark Mandell July 3, 2023

      How about requiring the delivery guys to have license plates? I see them going through red lights, riding on sidewalks, running down pedestrians and going the wrong way on busy streets. Further, I see gas-powered mopeds, which are required to be licensed, riding around without licenses. It really is the wild west with regard to these guys. With regard to UL certification, it should be required. If these guys were licensed, it would be easy to refuse licenses to those without bonafide UL certification.

      • redbike redbike July 3, 2023

        ‘License plates’ to which you refer are (if they’re valid and not fraudulent) issued by a state, not NYC.

        And the style and manner of operating these vehicles which you describe (and when it occurs is indeed objectionable) would be properly throttled if the ‘deliveristas’ were the delivery apps’ employees, not independent contractors. If the delivery apps don’t care, their insurance carriers do, and that would achieve the desired result.

        This requires action by the NY State Legislature — amending NY State labor law(s) defining the status of ‘deliveristas’ as employees, not independent contractors. NYC — as I already noted — can’t do squat.

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