NYC Public Advocate Pushes For Micromobility Safety Measures, Public Information Campaign To Prevent E-bike Fires

October 23rd, 2023

Press Release

As the use of e-bikes and other micromobility devices rises rapidly citywide, so too does the need for safety regulations and infrastructure surrounding them. An alarming number of fires have been caused by the lithium ion batteries powering these devices, elevating the urgency of such safety standards. At a City Council hearing of the Committee on Consumer and Worker protection today, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams highlighted concerns surrounding the risks associated with the use and storage of these devices, and stressed the need for safety measures on and off the road.

"Micromobility device users currently operate in an untenable situation,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “Owners have to navigate unclear regulations about their potentially hazardous vehicles. Furthermore, there is little public infrastructure that can accommodate micromobility devices… Through clear standards, the Council can make ownership of micromobility devices as simple as owning a car.”

The increase in the popularity of e-bikes and electric scooters has led to a corresponding increase in fires and hazards due to faulty technology and unsafe storage and charging practices. The Public Advocate encouraged both public information campaigns and specific support to businesses about safety measures and mandates. He pointed to Intro 819,  which would require all businesses that sell e-bikes, e-scooters and other personal mobility devices powered by batteries to post lithium-ion battery safety informational materials and guides, as a means for the city to encourage safety and protect New Yorkers who rely on these devices.

“We must prioritize legal and safe infrastructure around the usage of micromobility devices… E-bike repair shops should be as safe as any auto repair shop,” the Public Advocate argued, including that “I would like to work with the Council to include in this bill language that would explicitly exclude residential areas from becoming e-bike repair shops and have limits on how many devices can be charged in one home.”

Read the Public Advocate’s full comments at today’s hearing below.

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON CONSUMER AND WORKER PROTECTION OCTOBER 23RD, 2023

Good morning,

My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I would like to thank Chair Velázquez and the Committee members for holding this hearing.

 Because of the proliferation of micromobility devices across the city, lithium ion battery related safety concerns affect all New Yorkers. Micromobility devices, which are human or electric powered small and low speed transportation devices, have the potential to significantly reduce New Yorkers’ reliance on fossil fuels. However, citywide planning has gone so poorly that many are choosing instead to utilize gas powered mopeds for transportation. These mopeds are noisier and pollute as compared to electric powered micromobility devices. It should be the goal of the Council to make micromobility devices powered by lithium ion batteries as attractive as possible to adapt. 

Yet, we cannot allow unsafe practices to spring up to support the micromobility movement. AS has been heard today, there have been many deaths, unfortunately, not to mention the loss of treasured items – I heard from one person yesterday who lost items in the storage unit that burned as well. I recently heard from a landlord who stated his tenant operates a micromobility charging business and repair shop within his apartment. He reported the issue to FDNY. He claimed FDNY told him there are no laws preventing the tenant unless a fire starts. Thus, the tenant is still able to continue charging multiple micromobility devices in a residential building. This is a huge fire risk to the whole building. 

We must prioritize legal and safe infrastructure around the usage of micromobility devices, which is why Intro 1220 is so critical. E-bike repair shops should be as safe as any auto repair shop. Additionally, I would like to work with the Council to include in this bill language that would explicitly exclude residential areas from becoming ebike repair shops and have limits on how many devices can be charged in one home. 

Micromobility device users currently operate in an untenable situation. Owners have to navigate unclear regulations about their potentially hazardous vehicles. Furthermore, there is little public infrastructure that can accommodate micromobility devices. Ultimately, the state and federal government must develop standards and monitoring practices for lithium ion batteries, which both resolutions today recognize. Through clear standards the Council can make ownership of micromobility devices as simple as owning a car. Third-party delivery companies have a unique role to play in facilitating safe practices, and the legislation before us today does a great job at addressing third-party companies’ responsibility to ensure delivery workers’ safety.

Additionally, there must be more public information about best practices for lithium ion battery safety, which is why Intro 0819  is also important. The legislation highlights a larger problem that New York City Council must grapple with. Bills in Council are passed adding new regulations for business owners, but little is done to let business owners know about these new requirements. Bills such as 0819 must also be coupled with new funding for outreach campaigns so that business owners can be informed about what they are required to post.

Lastly, online retailers do not have the same burden placed on them when we just require physical posters to be displayed. This is a mistake, as many e-bike customers in particular buy their e-bikes online. We must protect New Yorkers from future lithium ion battery fires, and we must make sure everyone is aware of potential dangers. Through promoting micromobility device use, we will get more cars off of the streets and reduce both noise and air pollution. We also have to make sure that New Yorkers are safe with speed, which is another question, so I’m happy the Council seems to be trying to find a balance to make these available, particularly for workers who need them, to fit the demand. As New Yorkers want things quicker and quicker, we’ll try to find the service that will provide it - but we have to make sure everyone is safe.

Thank you.

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