StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on Powered Mobility Device and Battery Safety

Last week, we testified at the New York City Council Committee on Consumer and Worker Protection's oversight hearing on lithium-ion battery, powered-bicycle, and powered-mobility device safety, outlining our support for several bills aimed at improving the safety of batteries and battery-powered vehicles and the way they're operated. We also renewed our call for creation of a fund that would provide safe, legal e-bikes to delivery workers.

Our full testimony follows below.

E-bikes and electric scooters are powering a micro-mobility revolution. Sales of such devices skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic and are expected to double again in just the next five years. Half the trips made by any mode in New York City are under three miles, and many could be made easily on e-bikes – their ability to extend range and to assist in climbing a bridge or a hill is key to their soaring popularity among commuters, working cyclists, the elderly, and people of limited mobility.

E-bikes are also central to the city’s booming food-delivery system, which kept the restaurant industry alive during the pandemic and hasn’t subsided.

At the same time, the city is facing a tremendous safety challenge due to the proliferation of substandard lithium-ion batteries, which have caused many fires, resulting, tragically, in numerous fatalities. It’s essential that we prevent unsafe batteries from ever entering circulation, and that we work to remove dangerous batteries that are in use as rapidly as possible. Secure battery storage and charging infrastructure solutions exist, and the city should be investing in developing a robust network of such facilities, including the rapid buildout of promised Deliverista hubs.

It's also important to note that safe, UL-certified lithium-ion batteries are more expensive than substandard or reconditioned batteries, and that cost differential drives their use by delivery workers. We urge the Council to push City Hall to ensure robust funding for Local Law 131, which was passed last month and creates a low-cost or no-cost exchange program to provide safe batteries and powered mobility devices.

Getting this right is essential, as many delivery workers are switching to gas-powered mopeds, many of which are not street-legal, due to fears about battery safety and the lack of adequate charging infrastructure. Gas-powered mopeds are dirtier and noisier, and in most cases, faster than e-bikes, and it’s critical that the city work to reverse their growing adoption and make it easy, safe and affordable for delivery workers to acquire and use e-bikes.

Int. 0819-2022 – Support

We support Int. 0819-2022, which would require the posting of lithium-ion battery safety information in retail locations and online sites of businesses that sell battery-powered bikes and scooters. While this is clearly the right thing to do, we also have concerns that such a requirement will have limited utility, as the human tendency is not to read operating manuals, safety warnings, mattress tags, and the like. Still, it’s important to strive to educate users as fully as possible about the potential dangers of lithium-ion batteries.

Int. 0822-2022 – Support

We support Int. 0822-2022, which would require safety certification for mechanics of powered micro-mobility devices, including e-bikes and e-scooters. Many of the dangers posed by batteries are exacerbated by the reconditioning of used batteries or by unsafe practices, and requiring training and certification should help improve safe handling of batteries.

Int. 0998-2023 – Support

We support Int. 0998-2023, which would establish record-keeping requirements for entities that purchase or accept secondhand rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used for powering e-bikes and e-scooters. While the key to safety is preventing sub-standard batteries from reaching the street in the first place, tracking and accounting for used batteries to ensure proper recycling or disposal should help reduce fire danger.

Int. 1163-2023 – Support

We support Int. 1163-2023, which would require the New York City Department of Transportation to develop a training course covering the safe and lawful operation of powered bicycles, including the safe use and charging of lithium-ion batteries, and would require delivery app companies to provide delivery workers with safety equipment and ensure that workers delivering on their behalf complete the safety course.

We strongly support safety instruction for delivery workers and holding app companies accountable for ensuring that workers delivering on their behalf complete such coursework. To this point, the app companies have reaped the lion’s share of delivery profits while simultaneously skirting responsibility and liability. With workers delivering for multiple apps, some kind of “Black Car Fund” equivalent for Deliveristas, funded by the app companies, is probably the best way to administer such an effort. We also believe the app companies should compensate workers for their training time.

Int. 1168-2023 – Support

We also support Int. 1168-2023, which would establish safety standards for powered bicycles and other powered mobility devices used to deliver food on behalf of third-party app services, including ensuring the use of accredited batteries.

We’d like to see more details about how this legislation would work in practice, but as with Int. 1163, we applaud efforts to put the onus for safety on the delivery apps, and we again believe that doing this successfully will require creation of a “Black Car Fund” type entity funded by app companies for the benefit of Deliveristas.

This bill also comports with our belief that New York City should create a standardized delivery e-bike program that borrows from aspects of taxi regulation and bike share, that could be branded and sponsored, subsidized by the city and app companies, and offered at a deeply discounted price to delivery workers.

Int. 1220-2023 – More Information Needed

While Int. 1220-2023, which would require businesses selling electric bicycles or e-scooters in New York City to be licensed, seems reasonable on its face, we believe that more information about how such a licensing system would work is necessary. Given the botched rollout of cannabis-dispensary licenses, we have concerns about how the program that Int. 1220 would compel would be implemented.

While we imagine that most responsible retailers would find it easy to comply, and the desire to weed out fly-by-night operators is well founded, the details matter.

Res. 0718-2023 and Res. 0746-2023 – Support

Finally, we support both Res. 0718-2023 and Res. 0746-2023. Res. 0718-2023 calls for Federal passage of the Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-Ion Batteries Act, which would require the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to establish final standards for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. It’s an important step that would go a long way toward keeping sub-standard batteries from ever making it into circulation.

Res. 0746-2023 calls for state passage of two bills, one that would prohibit the manufacturing, distribution, and sale in New York State of lithium-ion batteries and chargers for powered micro-mobility devices that don’t meet Underwriters Laboratories standards, and a second that would prohibit the sale of reconditioned lithium-ion batteries for use in such devices. Non-UL-certified and reconditioned batteries are overwhelmingly responsible for dangerous battery fires, and keeping them off the streets is an important safety concern.

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published this page in News 2023-11-02 16:56:31 -0400
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