Fordham University puts blanket ban on e-scooters, e-bikes citing battery fires

Fordham campus
Fordham University is banning e-scooters and e-bikes from its campuses.
Photo Aliya Schneider

Fordham University is banning all battery-powered e-scooters, e-bikes and e-skateboards across university property as the city considers legislation to make the batteries used in such devices safer.

The new rule takes effect on Jan. 3 across Fordham’s three campuses in the Bronx, Manhattan and Westchester, including all buildings on and off campus and walkways and sidewalks within campus boundaries. The ban also includes the storage of these devices.

The decision stems from a surge of deadly fires in the city from the lithium-ion batteries used in these devices and FDNY safety recommendations, according to the school’s announcement, which came from Robert Fitzer, the associate vice president of Fordham public safety. The storage and charging of the batteries is dangerous because they can explode and start fires, according to the announcement. The fires are chemical reactions that cannot be extinguished with fire extinguishers like traditional fires and can create toxic gases that can be deadly in enclosed spaces, according to the announcement.

According to the FDNY, the city had 206 investigations, 142 injuries and six deaths from lithium-ion battery fires just this year.

In early August, a Bronx resident died after his lithium-ion battery caught fire in his apartment, and in November, more than 40 people were injured in a Midtown high-rise where at least five e-bikes were being stored.

The FDNY does not have a breakdown for these fires by borough, according to spokesperson Amanda Farinacci Gonzalez.

Fires in lithium-ion batteries are often caused by multiple batteries being charged in a single outlet or individuals trying to repair or tamper with the batteries, according to the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT).

The agency distanced its shared mobility programs from the recent headline-making apartment fires that were caused by batteries for privately owned devices, which delivery workers rely on to get around the city. The city-regulated East Bronx e-scooters, as well as the Revel mopeds and Citi Bike e-bikes, are not allowed to be charged inside residences. Also, the shared devices are designed to prevent tampering and use professional maintenance workers, according to the agency.

Lime, one of the companies participating in the e-scooter pilot, had issues in 2018 with batteries catching fire due to a manufacturing defect, though the company has since made changes to its charging practices and only charges its devices in its warehouse by trained professionals.

Even with concerns centering on private devices, Elizabeth Adams, the senior director of advocacy and organizing at Transportation Alternatives, told the Bronx Times a blanket ban like Fordham’s is not the solution. Instead, Fordham should create infrastructure for these devices through safe storage and charging stations, and the city should assess safety requirements for the batteries and hold businesses accountable that sell faulty batteries without proper guidance.

“We understand the real concerns posed by some faulty e-bike batteries and the fires that have taken place are very serious, but a blanket ban on e-bikes and mobility devices overall is not the answer,” she said. “Frankly, this is a drastic decision to ban mobility across campus rather than come up with proactive solutions that do not criminalize the end user but really address the root of the problem.” 

The City Council is considering a set of bills to improve the safety of devices with these batteries, such as a bill put forward by Democratic Councilmember Oswald Feliz, whose district includes the Fordham area, that would prohibit the sale of these batteries unless they are listed and labeled by a nationally recognized testing lab or approved organization.

Fordham University has not discussed allowing devices back on campus in the future or installing charging ports or storage for the devices, according to spokesperson Bob Howe.

Howe pointed to other schools that have policies banning e-devices from buildings or campuses across the country, including New York University, Pace University and Columbia University.

As for whether any of the Lime, Bird or Veo e-scooters in the East Bronx program have caught fire, FDNY spokesperson Farinacci Gonzalez said the department doesn’t know.

“The lithium-ion battery fires are so destructive that they often destroy beyond recognition whatever they were attached to, so there’s no way we would or could track what they’re coming from,” she added.

DOT spokesperson Mona Bruno told the Bronx Times that the agency isn’t aware of any fires caused by e-mobility devices in the city’s programs.

“Safety is our top concern, and these projects are carefully administered in compliance with federal guidelines,” Bruno said.

This article was updated at 5:13 p.m. on Dec. 14

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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