Column: Lithium-ion batteries: change is coming to an e-bike near you

During the March 2, New York City Council Stated Meeting, the council passed several bills related to the usage and education of lithium-ion batteries and powered mobility devices. 
An FDNY spokesperson told the Bronx Times that there have been 113 lithium-ion battery-related fires in 2023, resulting in 71 injuries and 13 deaths.
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Since the inception of e-bikes here in New York City, there has been a steady rise in the usage of motorized mobility devices, including e-scooters and hoverboards. Loved by children, deliveristas and eco-friendly New Yorkers, this easily accessible method of transportation has caused a series of fires in recent months, and it’s time to provide consumers with the educational resources on how to handle these delicate means of transportation and develop a safety plan that mitigates the risks of future fires.

All too often, our city experiences fires that are caused by lithium-ion batteries. Last week, the City Council took action to mitigate the risk in which these fires occur, voting on legislation supporting the safety of our city. As a sponsor on five of the passed bills and two that were introduced last Thursday, I am proud of the steps we are taking to educate and identify solutions that will prevent more fires.

While some New Yorkers may not have lithium-ion devices in their homes, the fires they cause spread quickly. As I write this, the Grand Concourse community is still recovering from a fire on Sunday morning caused by one of these devices. While people may think they are safely charging their property, the impact can be devastating for neighbors. There’s so much more to it than “set it and forget it,” and that’s where we step in. The bill Int 749, will require the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, along with a consultation by the Fire Department, to establish educational materials that guide consumers on the safe use and storage of powered mobility devices. Another bill will require the Fire Department to develop a campaign to educate the public on the fire risks posed by powered bikes. From maintaining and storing their devices to how to charge their battery properly, our delivery workers and customers will be in safer hands once they have the knowledge to ride safely.

As ridership continues to rise, we have also found ourselves questioning the integrity of the retailers throughout our communities. Similar to purchasing a vehicle or motorcycle, you ask questions about its features and engine type or history (if pre-owned). But unlike dealerships, the retailers are held to different standards, leaving room for error and devices not up to par on our streets. As the chair of Consumer and Worker Protection, I must ensure products sold are up to code. With Int 663, businesses will be held accountable for the distribution of these devices and batteries that fail to meet accepted safety standards. The last thing anyone wants to hear is that their loved one was injured due to a faulty battery in their scooter or e-bike.

The health and safety of New Yorkers, including members of my community, have and will continue to come first. More than 200 fires have been caused by these batteries in New York City in the last year, killing six people and injuring nearly 150. I hope that with this new legislation, we will see a decrease in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries. E-bikes and scooters can be great alternatives for many people, but the increased risks of fires set us back dramatically.

I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue working on legislation that supports our communities, even in the smallest of ways. Remember, one fire, even a small one, is one too many.

Marjorie Velázquez is the councilmember who represents City Council District 13.