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DOT Debuts Public E-bike Charging for Deliveristas

Photo: Kevin Duggan|

Deliveristas check out the charging docks by Swiftmile at Cooper Square.

Finally, they're taking charge!

The city's first public e-bike charging station opened in Cooper Square on Thursday — the start of an overdue six-month pilot that is part of a "Charge Safe Ride Safe Action Plan" for delivery workers that Mayor Adams announced last year.

The inaugural infrastructure will be followed by locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn "in the coming weeks," according to City Hall, which hopes to accomplish two things: improve the safety of recharging the lithium-ion batteries on which delivery workers depend and counter the ongoing demonization of e-bikes.

“We count on delivery workers for so much, and they should be able to count on us, too — whether that means fighting for fair pay or making their jobs and livelihoods safer,” said Mayor Adams in a statement. “This pilot program ... will give delivery workers the ability to access safe, accessible, outdoor battery-charging that will undoubtedly save lives, and we’re eager to expand this pilot even further. We know the incredible potential of e-bikes in our city and it’s on us to make e-bike use even safer.”

Three companies — Swobbee, Popwheels, and Swiftmile — will operate the FDNY-reviewed charging stations and allow a select group of 100 delivery workers, many of whom are immigrant delivery workers, to juice up their devices free of charge.

DOT will soon boot up the infrastructure at Essex Market on the Lower East Side, Plaza De Las Americas in Washington Heights, the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, and Jay and Willoughby streets in Downtown Brooklyn.

Swobbee and Popwheels provide lockers (see below) where subscribing riders can swap out depleted batteries for a charged one while Swiftmile offers electrified posts that can recharge an e-bike in two to three hours.

These two charging lockers by Popwheels and Swobbee allow swapping out an empty battery with a fully-loaded power pack.Photo: Kevin Duggan

Up to 100 delivery workers will be able to sign up for the pilot program in the coming days by filling out an online form or coming to an onboarding event next week in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The new hubs follow Adams's announcement last month that he is looking into creating a new agency — the Department of Sustainable Delivery — to deal with the boom in deliveries and proliferation of micro-mobility devices, many of which are powered by illegal batteries that have sparked fires. Last year, 150 people were hurt and 18 died in 268 inferno that were the result of faulty lithium-ion batteries, the FDNY said. A law banning the sale of uncertified lithium-ion batteries — those that are not approved by the nationally recognized UL Solutions (Underwriters Laboratory) — went into effect just six months ago. 

And in the void of access to safe charging, some deliveristas have been shifting to gas-powered mopeds — many of them illegal — contributing to a whole other problem of its own on city streets. 

“I bought it because I don’t have a place to charge the electric bike,” Alex, a delivery worker for DoorDash, told Streetsblog last summer of the new moped he had recently purchased. “And this allows me to travel further and not worry about running out of power.”

Most of the city's efforts to install safe e-bike charging infrastructure have faced pushback and delays, and DOT has been much faster at deploying power stations for electric cars.

Plans announced back in 2022 by Sen. Chuck Schumer and Adams to transform defunct newsstands into rest stops for delivery workers, allowing them to recharge themselves and their battery-powered devices, have stalled amid pushback

Electrified Citi Bike docks were supposed to launch in Manhattan last year, but that has yet to happen, prompting one local lawmaker to send DOT an impatient letter demanding they get moving last week.

A project with $25 million in federal funding for charging hubs at New York City Housing Authority complexes — where the city initially considered and then backed down from banning e-bikes on its property altogether — is also hitting a snag, the news outlet The City reported this week.

Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi said last summer that public housing residents would “start seeing evidence of this” by early 2024. But now three months in, officials say the contracts are are expected to be finalized in May, with the first hubs only coming online by the end of the year, according to NYCHA spokesperson Michael Corgan. 

When it comes to electric charging infrastructure for cars, DOT has been able to install 100 chargers at sidewalks in all five boroughs within 18 months, and the agency is eyeing tens of thousands more in the coming decade, Streetsblog reported

Nevertheless, when asked why it appeared to be easier for the agency to accommodate electric cars than e-bikes, DOT Commissioner Ydanis Commissioner contended it was not more challenging to set up the e-bike infrastructure.

"I don’t think one is more easy than the other," Rodriguez told Streetsblog. "We’re going to be working to address any area where we can make an improvement."

After initial publication of this story, agency spokesman Vin Barone added that the new pilot will bring 102 charging points for e-bikes, slightly more than the first round of electric car charging equipment.

For workers interested in signing up to the pilot in person, DOT will host onboarding sessions at Cooper Square next Thursday, March 7, 2 to 5 p.m., and at the Brooklyn Army Terminal on Friday, March 8, 2 to 5 p.m.

Update (Friday, March 1, 12:06 p.m.): This story has been updated with additional information DOT provided after initial publication.

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