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New Legislation Combats Uncertified E-Bike Batteries



HENRIETTA MCFARLANE, HOST:

Whether you love them or hate them, the e-bikes in New York City are here to stay. But the unsafe batteries have got to go. Mayor Eric Adams signed legislation this month in an effort to regulate the batteries that have caused hundreds of fires in the city over the past several years. But as Isabelle Teare reports, many delivery workers are stuck in limbo between the stores selling the batteries and the legislation regulating them.


ISABELLE TEARE, BYLINE:

Earlier this month, delivery worker Samad Sore was speeding downtown on his e-bike to deliver an order when he felt something sting his leg.


SAMAD SORE:

I feel something like sting, like pip pip pip. Like burn something burned.


TEARE: The battery on his e-bike was smoking. Sore quickly jumped off the bike and ripped the battery from the dock. Within seconds it was up in flames.


SORE:

And the battery burn. And the fire happened.


TEARE:

Sore wasn’t injured when his battery caught fire that night, but it scared him. And so he stopped charging his e-bike batteries at his Bronx apartment and started paying Javi’s Bike Shop $42 a month to charge them in the store.


SORE:

But your life is very important.


TEARE:

Are you afraid of a fire in your house?


SORE:

Yeah yeah, when I’m not there something can happen and the house gonna take fire.


TEARE:

In the last three months, the fire department has responded to 45 different fires sparked by the lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes. Three people have died and many more have been injured. That’s why Mayor Eric Adams signed new legislation this month to regulate the batteries.


But before we jump into that, I wanted to understand why so many of these batteries were sparking fires in the first place. So I spoke to Jordan Ladd, an advanced battery engineer. He says to understand what’s going wrong, you need to first understand what should be going right.


JORDAN LADD:

A good battery has a really good monitoring system. Your battery as a whole is made up of many small cells. And a management system keeps track of each of those cells to make sure one of them in particular isn’t working too hard.


TEARE:

This is one of the main issues lithium-ion batteries run into. And the bigger these batteries get, and the more power we try to squeeze out of them, the riskier they are. Which brings us back to the legislation signed this month banning the sale and use of batteries that fail to meet safety standards. This includes all batteries that have been reconfigured using second hand parts. Ladd, the battery engineer, says these Frankenstein batteries are especially dangerous.


LADD:

From an engineering perspective, you need to make sure the battery is designed as a whole rather than as the sum of different parts that might not work well.

TEARE:

The problem is, delivery workers like Samad Sore don’t know whether their batteries are certified or not. Sore pulls out the battery from his he bike. Nothing about certification. No stickers. No markings.


SORE:

It's like we don't know where the battery come from and we just go to the store like and buy, we don't know any more anything about that.


TEARE:

And this frustrates Sore. He says he paid good money for his battery. It cost him $400.


SORE:

They don’t care about your life or if something happen they don’t know where the battery from.


TEARE:

Mayor Adam’s says the new legislation isn’t intended to target the delivery workers that rely on these batteries. The legislation is geared more towards cracking down on the import of the batteries, and the stores selling them.


Which they did. Last week, the police fined Javi’s Bike Shop for charging multiple uncertified batteries. And now the bike shop won’t let Sore charge his battery at the store.


Eventually, the Mayor says there will be safe charging stations throughout the city. But, until then, Sore says he’ll be charging his batteries outside… on the fire escape of his apartment.


Isabelle Teare, Columbia Radio News.


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