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NYC is pioneering a battery safety pilot to prevent e-bike fires, enhancing delivery worker safety and urban mobility.

March 25, 2024

4 Min Read
NYC battery safety pilot program.
Charging technologies participating in the city’s pilot, produced by (from left to right) Swobbee, Swiftmile, and Popwheels.Courtesy of NYC DOT.

The increasing use of lithium-ion batteries to power e-bikes among delivery workers in NYC has raised a significant concern: the potential occurrence of deadly battery fires. Already, a bill awaits congressional action to address this issue. Mayor Eric Adams has launched a pioneering pilot program in response to the alarming number of fires attributed to these batteries. This program aims to offer safe and easily accessible charging options for e-bike batteries, thereby mitigating the risk of fires and prioritizing the safety of both delivery workers and residents.

The new NYC pilot program, "Charge Safe, Ride Safe," marks a significant step forward in promoting the adoption of electric micromobility while addressing the inherent safety concerns associated with lithium-ion batteries.

Mayor Adams stated, "This pilot program we're kicking off today will give delivery workers the ability to access safe, accessible, outdoor battery-charging that will undoubtedly save lives, and we're eager to expand this pilot even further. We know the incredible potential of e-bikes in our city and it's on us to make e-bike use even safer."

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NYC pilot project

In collaboration with Newlab—a venture platform specializing in climate and deep tech—NYC has initiated a pilot project to prevent battery fires in electric micromobility vehicles and enhance safety for delivery workers by expanding access to battery charging infrastructure. The initial phase of the project involves partnerships with three innovative companies that will provide swappable battery services (providing UL-certified e-bike battery for a fully-charged battery at designated outdoor battery cabinets) and secure charging bike racks:

Related:How About a Battery-Swapping Scheme for Electric Bicycles in NYC?

1. Swobbee will provide battery swapping stations.

2. Popwheels is headquartered in NYC, and it will provide swapping stations.

3. Swiftmile is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay area and will provide fast charging stations for batteries.

The three companies' technologies encompass a spectrum of fire safety features, extending from automatic shutoff mechanisms in case of battery overheating to advanced fire suppression systems. Swobbee US Managing Director Stephan von Wolff stated, “To ensure maximum safety for the delivery workers, we’re introducing the safest battery technology around. This lithium ferrophosphate (LFP) technology outperforms any conventional lithium-ion alternative with a lower total cost of ownership. We’re convinced that this accessibility and safety can serve as a blueprint for the City’s approach to fire safety and sustainability moving forward.”

Related:NYC E-Bike Battery Fires Prompt Calls for National Legislation

e-bike charging station.

By providing designated outdoor charging facilities, the program aims to mitigate the risks associated with charging e-bike batteries indoors, where the majority of deadly fires occur. According to the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, most deadly e-bike fires happen in residences.

"We know that micro-mobility devices powered by lithium-ion batteries are already in people's homes," stated Kavanagh. "In fact, a majority of deadly e-bike fires happen in residences. They are used daily by delivery workers and others to work and commute. We are grateful to partner with the DOT to give delivery workers a safe place to charge their devices. Fires caused by lithium-ion batteries are extremely dangerous and deadly, and we must continue to work together to tackle this public safety threat head-on."

Companies like Swobbee, Popwheels, and Swiftmile have introduced technologies that offer a promising solution to the fire risk dilemma. These innovative technologies enable delivery workers to exchange depleted batteries for fully charged ones at designated outdoor cabinets, eliminating the need for potentially hazardous in-home charging. With built-in fire safety features, such as automatic shutoff mechanisms and fire suppression systems, these swappable battery systems ensure maximum safety for users and bystanders alike.

The collaboration between the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), and other key stakeholders underscores a concerted effort to address the multifaceted challenges of e-bike battery fires. The pilot program seeks valuable feedback from participating delivery workers, ensuring continuous improvement and refinement of the charging infrastructure.

Moreover, the pilot program's expansion to include additional outdoor charging sites across Manhattan and Brooklyn reflects a commitment to equitable access and inclusivity. By strategically locating charging facilities in areas with high concentrations of e-bike delivery activity, the initiative aims to serve the diverse needs of delivery workers while fostering community resilience and cohesion.

As the pilot program enters its six-month testing phase, stakeholders remain optimistic about its potential to catalyze positive change and shape the future of urban mobility. With ongoing collaboration, innovation, and community engagement, New York City is poised to promote safe and sustainable electric micromobility, ensuring a safer future for all New Yorkers.

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