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Lithium-Ion Batteries

City Wants Delivery Giants to Give Workers Safe Batteries and Bikes — and Take Dangerous Ones Off the Street

Mayor Adams wants to require food delivery services to establish and pay for a trade-in program for illegal, uncertified, and gas-powered devices.

12:03 AM EST on February 1, 2024

Photo: Josh Katz

The Adams administration is not only supportive of a Council bill that would require app-based delivery companies to provide their workers with safe, certified e-bikes, but wants the tech giants to go further by taking charge of getting the dangerous devices that are currently in use off city streets.

“[We] would support ... a bill that would go further in requiring third-party food delivery services and third-party courier services to establish and pay for a trade-in program for illegal, uncertified, and gas-powered devices,” top Department of Transportation official Margaret Forgione said during a hearing on Wednesday. “This would help delivery workers transition to legal and safe devices and help address both street and fire safety concerns.”

The equipment bill, which was introduced last year by Bronx Council Member Oswald Feliz, is adamantly opposed by the delivery companies such as Uber, DoorDash, and Grubhub, which claim it would lead to fraud and not solve the crisis of deliveristas relying on dangerous, second-hand batteries or shifting to illegal, gas-powered mopeds, as Streetsblog has reported.

Last year, 18 people were killed in 268 fires the FDNY says were sparked by lithium-ion batteries, and there have already been more than a dozen infernos this year, injuring eight people. The city last year banned all batteries not certified by the nationally recognized UL Solutions (Underwriters Laboratory) in an attempt to address the deadly disaster, though many workers still use uncertified power packs because they are cheaper.

But for the multi-billion-dollar app companies, the problem is potential chicanery.

“Someone could sign up for three different platforms on Monday, get three new e-bikes and full safety equipment on Tuesday, make a delivery on Wednesday, and disappear with $6,000 worth of new gear by the end of the week, all without getting a single bad battery off the street,” Toney Anaya, the head of government relations for DoorDash, said during an initial hearing on the bill late last year.

The Adams administration seems to have heeded some of those concerns by calling for the bill to include a trade-in program — with the tech giants in charge.

“The administration very much shares your concerns over the public safety risks posed by growing risks of uncertified e-bike batteries in terms of how best to get legal and certified devices into the hands of delivery workers so they can continue to work and do so safely,” said Will Carry, assistant commissioner for policy at the DOT during the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection committee hearing.

How exactly the trade-in program would be funded remains unclear. Uber’s Josh Gold proposed back in October that the city and apps work together to set up a so-called centralized fund to pay for workers’ safe equipment by imposing a fee on all delivery orders, suggesting it would work like the Black Car Fund, which uses a surcharge on rides to raise cash for drivers in need of injury compensation.

DOT's Carry said that both a surcharge and a straight-up philanthropic gift from the app companies demanded “further discussion.”

A spokesperson for DOT said that Feliz’s bill, Intro. 1168, with the addition of a potential trade-in program, would be separate from the citywide "buy back" program that would allow delivery workers to exchange faulty lithium-ion batteries for safe, certified ones, and which was rubber-stamped by the city Council last year.

And for their part, workers’ advocates say they “strongly support” Feliz’s bill, but would want to ensure that there would be no room for retaliation from the companies — especially since the cost of safe, certified batteries has skyrocketed, making them largely unaffordable for the workers.

"There are not enough UL-certified batteries and the few that are available come at a huge expense," Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Worker's Justice Project, said previously.

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