NYC Accelerates Micro-Mobility Charging Infrastructure After Deadly Battery Fires

July 04, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

After over a dozen people were killed this year in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries, New York City secured $25 million in emergency federal funding to add 173 outdoor charging and storage stations for the growing e-bike and e-scooter fleet. 

New York City officials have procured a $25 million federal grant to install 173 e-bike and e-scooter charging and storage stations at 53 outdoor sites across the five boroughs. 


e-bike safety

New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, and other city officials announce funding and education efforts for e-bike safety. Image used courtesy of NYC


The city had already been ramping up its micro-mobility charging infrastructure before a series of fatal fires tied to e-bike/-scooter batteries led it to expedite that expansion to more outdoor sites. The grant ups the number of planned stations to 327 across 157 housing developments, serving an average of 67 residents at each station. This reduces the need for riders to recharge their bikes and scooters in their apartments overnight, which can lead to hazardous overcharging. 

The emergency funding was announced after the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) stepped up its inspection and enforcement efforts overseeing the hundreds of e-bike stores and repair shops across the city. It also launched an education campaign sharing best practices for lithium-ion battery safety. FDNY has already cracked down on several bike shops for breaking safety rules, such as spacing batteries less than three feet apart, charging more than five units simultaneously, and using multiple extension cords. The resulting fines can reach up to $5,000. 

NYC has had 113 lithium-ion battery fires this year, leading to 71 injuries and 13 fatalities, according to the most recent count from FDNY. If defective or charged improperly, lithium-ion batteries can overheat and explode. This is particularly dangerous because batteries typically generate huge volumes of fire, making it difficult for people nearby to make it out of the building in time. In one instance, a lithium-ion battery caught on fire on the first floor of an e-bike shop and spread to the higher levels of the building, killing four and injuring several. 


NYC E-Bike Adoption Brings New Vulnerabilities

Senator Chuck Schumer cited the lack of a federal consumer safety standard and cheap China-made batteries/chargers as factors driving the increase in lithium-ion battery safety incidents. NYC Mayor Eric Adams also cited refurbished batteries as a major contributor to the recent fires. 


Video used courtesy of the NYC Mayor’s Office


Schumer added that last year saw 216 battery fires, compared to just 44 in 2020. New York legalized e-bikes and scooters that year, as the pandemic prompted high demand for food and goods deliveries. 

It’s unclear how many people own electric bikes in the city today, but they’re becoming more prevalent as part of a national trend. NYC’s bike-share system, Lyft-owned Citi Bike, has over 4,000 e-bikes in its fleet. Lyft’s 2023 Multimodal Report showed that e-bikes accounted for 39% of City Bike rides in New York and New Jersey last year, despite comprising only 20% of its total fleet. 

According to NYC Department of Transportation statistics, a typical day sees over 550,000 cycling trips in the city, including conventional bikes. E-bike adoption is expected to grow in the coming years, consistent with the national market for electrified transportation.


Lithium-ion Battery Safety

Earlier this year, Adams signed five bills into law targeting e-bike/e-scooter safety, including a ban on the sale/rent/lease of electric micro-mobility vehicles and storage batteries failing to meet safety standards. Another bill prohibited the assembly, reconditioning, and sale of lithium-ion batteries containing cells removed from used units. 

After the deadly e-bike shop fire in June, officials encouraged the public to report tips on unsafe conditions surrounding lithium-ion batteries. FDNY also bumped up the time to respond to complaints from three days to 12 hours. Referencing a list of over 200 known e-bike stores and repair shops, FDNY tasked its field units to conduct inspections. 

The department gave an update on June 29, revealing the scale and severity of unsafe operations uncovered in the new crackdown. Since the new protocol was implemented, field units had to call for backup several times upon observing particularly egregious conditions in the last week of June alone.


lithium-ion batteries for e-bikes and e-scooters

New York City firefighters uncovered egregious safety hazards involving lithium-ion batteries for e-bikes and e-scooters. Image used courtesy of FDNY

In one instance, 115 to 130 batteries were found at a shop with multiple fire hazards, including damaged batteries, overloaded power strips, and insufficient space between units. Some batteries even caught fire as firefighters were disposing of them in a barrel outside the location. 

FDNY’s fire prevention unit has performed 38 inspections since the increased enforcement effort in June, of which 17 were new complaints, five were re-inspections, and three triggered an operational response. According to the department, those inspections led to 68 oath summonses, 13 violation orders, nine criminal court summonses, and one order to vacate and seal.

Additionally, NYC’s fire companies inspected over 140 locations citywide since June 23, resulting in two dozen violations/summonses and four calls to the enforcement task force.