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Despite Co-op and Condo Rules, Deadly E-Bike Fires Rise

New York City

E-bike fires, lithium-ion batteries, co-op and condo boards, fireproof bike-storage rooms.
Jan. 19, 2024

Faced with a rise of deadly explosions and fires from faulty e-bike batteries, some co-op and condo boards have banned e-bikes from their buildings. Others have looked into fire-proofing their bike storage rooms. Meanwhile, the city council has passed bills outlawing local sales of cheap, aftermarket lithium-ion batteries — a prime culprit in the fires — and laying the groundwork for a trade-in program.

Even so, Gothamist reports, New York City firefighters responded to 267 fires caused by faulty lithium-ion batteries in 2023 — about 20% more than in 2022 — despite the measures by co-op and condo boards and the city council. The number of deaths from battery fires also increased in 2023, tripling to 18 from six the previous year, according to FDNY data.

Several of the fires claimed multiple lives: A blaze last June killed four people living above a Chinatown e-bike shop, while another fire triggered by an e-scooter battery killed three members of one family when it engulfed their Crown Heights brownstone in November.

The uptick in fires has occurred even though city officials and firefighters have stepped up inspections of bike shops to ensure they’re selling safe batteries. Fear of the fires has also spurred some landlords to follow the lead of co-op and condo boards and ban e-bikes and other vehicles that use the batteries.

The federal government has also weighed in. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said last fall that it plans to lay out universal safety standards for e-bikes, scooters and mopeds, making it much harder to sell dangerously bad batteries. But they likely won’t be finalized until 2025.

E-bike experts and advocates for delivery workers praised the policy changes, but acknowledge that it will take a long time before they lead to a reduction in fires – particularly when the city’s 65,000 delivery workers depend on cheap bikes and batteries for their livelihoods.

“Legislation will ultimately address this problem,” says Mike Fritz, an e-bike consultant. “But until those battery packs are purged from the marketplace, this trend is going to continue. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, it’s a very long tunnel.”

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