The City Council passed a slate of bills Thursday cracking down on lithium-ion batteries used in many electric bikes and scooters, including measures that have spurred concerns that food delivery workers may feel the brunt of enforcement.
The Council bills belong to a broader legislative package aimed at clamping down on the risks associated with the batteries, which have caused a growing number of fires, injuries and deaths citywide, according to the fire department.
A bill sponsored by Councilmember Oswald Feliz would bar e-bikes lacking certified electrical systems from being leased or sold in the city. Another bill from Councilmember Gale Brewer would similarly ban the assembly or reconditioning of cells from secondhand batteries or their sale.
“These bills are an initial step to increase public education and reduce the growing commercial circulation of uncertified batteries that pose the greatest danger,” said Council Speaker Adrienne Adams before the vote on Thursday.
“Our valued delivery workers are not the target of these restrictions,” Adams continued. “Rather it is commercial sellers who profit from distributing those devices that lack safety certification.”
Still, delivery workers have concerns about how the restrictions would be rolled out. While advocates agree that worker safety is a priority, they say the bills alone won’t tackle the root of the problem.
“If deliveristas and other low-income communities would have access to public charging stations and how to charge and park their bikes safely, families and deliveristas wouldn’t have to take the risk to do this at their homes,” Ligia Guallpa, executive director of Workers Justice Project, said before Thursday's vote.
Guallpa said the organizing group, which houses Los Deliveristas Unidos, has spoken with the bill sponsors and Speaker Adams about their concerns. In remarks before the Council vote, Adams pledged to continue to work with deliveristas on the issue.
“Many of the delivery workers whose safety and well-being must be our priority rely on lithium-ion batteries and the devices powered by them for their livelihoods,” Adams said.
The organization has been pushing councilmembers for a follow-up package of bills that would address the infrastructure needs of delivery workers, including citywide access to charging stations and safe parking locations — as well as for a transition period for workers to adjust to the new regulations.
“Our biggest concern is the criminalization and targeting — it would be more geared toward workers rather than the manufacturers and the businesses,” Guallpa said.
Since the certification and used battery bills were introduced, the language regarding penalties in both has changed. In earlier versions, both bills had penalties of up to $1,000 per repeat violation within a two-year period.
Brewer said on Thursday the fire department would be determining penalties for used battery legislation during rulemaking. The certification bill still bears fines of up to $1,000 per repeat offense, with slightly amended language around the relevant timeframe.
The legislative package before the Council also includes bills on public education around the risks surrounding e-bikes and similarly powered vehicles.
The number of fires involving lithium-ion batteries has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to numbers provided by the fire department. Related injuries and deaths have also increased since 2020.
Since the beginning of 2023, one person has died from fires related to lithium-ion batteries. Six people died from battery-related fires last year, and more than 100 people were injured — nearly double the number of injuries from the previous year.
Gwynne Hogan contributed reporting.