Skip to Content
Fresh Hell

Mayor Adams Admits Massive Delivery Companies Should ‘Play a Role’ in Stopping E-Bike Fires

The City Council is debating legislation that would require companies like UberEats and Grubhub to provide their workers with fireproof battery cases.

Mayor Eric Adams at a press conference in Chinatown on Wednesday, June 21st (Hell Gate)

Early Tuesday night, a blaze that the FDNY determined was caused by lithium-ion batteries engulfed the HQ E-Bike Repair shop on Madison Street in the Lower East Side, killing four people and injuring and displacing dozens of others. The fire, which spread from the shop to the apartments above it, was yet another instance where charging e-bike batteries, many of them refurbished and dangerously connected to extension cords, have led to the deaths of people in their homes. According to the FDNY, e-bike batteries have started 108 fires this year alone.

It's a problem the City and the FDNY are determined to address. Earlier this year, the City Council passed Local Law 42, which banned the sale of "refurbished" batteries. But delivery workers, who are just barely making ends meet as is, often can't afford to pay for new e-bike batteries, which can run into the hundreds of dollars.

On Wednesday, a few blocks from Tuesday's fire, Mayor Eric Adams told reporters that his administration would speed up inspections of stores or locations that have received 311 complaints about unsafe battery charging.

Adams insisted that the focus isn't on "penalizing" the workers that rely on their bikes to get around. "Refurbished batteries are used by people from low-income areas and use the batteries as part of their vital services," he said. 

For months, the FDNY has been doing outreach to store owners and delivery drivers to teach them about safely storing and charging batteries—keeping them a few feet away from each other while charging, not using extension cords to charge them, and not charging them overnight. On Wednesday, the FDNY said it would cut down its response time to complaints of improper charging to twenty-four hours, from a standard right now of seventy-two hours. 

The City Council, for its part, has been batting around legislation that would help get these batteries off the street—including a buy-back program, and getting delivery apps to provide fireproof cases for batteries to their drivers. During today's press conference, the mayor said he's working with the council on the legislation, and expects updates on the bills shortly.

Delivery workers recently won a significant wage increase thanks to a City Council bill passed in 2021, yet they are still treated as part-time, gig workers. Most delivery apps who employ them don't have to provide them benefits, let alone better and safer tools to do their jobs.

Two exceptions are Getir and Gorillas, companies that provide their own e-bikes to employees—the bikes receive regular maintenance and have safe batteries (they're also charged in the company's own distribution centers). 

But UberEats and DoorDash, which dominate the delivery market in New York City (UberEats, DoorDash, Grubhub, and Relay, account for 99 percent of restaurant deliveries in the city), offload that responsibility entirely to their workers. Workers buy their own bikes, find where to charge them, and pay for maintenance. Uber reported record revenues last year of $8.6 billion (while still not turning a profit), while DoorDash also posted robust earnings of over $2 billion.

Hell Gate asked Mayor Adams if delivery companies should bear some responsibility for these fires, and whether the City should require them to help upgrade their contractors' bikes. 

"They should play a role, the GrubHubs, the UberEats, in making sure that we get these batteries turned in, and to make sure there's a pot of money we can use to help the drivers," Adams said. "They should play a role."

Hell Gate pressed Adams on whether the companies should be on the hook for buying these batteries for their workers, and Adams said that was "part of the conversation." 

Uber did not return a request for comment. A representative for DoorDash pointed out that not every e-ike in New York City belongs to a delivery worker, and that the company has donated $100,000 to the FDNY Foundation to help raise awareness of battery safety. 

"We will continue to work with policymakers on identifying solutions that address the root of these issues by stopping the flood of dangerous devices, cracking down on bad actors, and protecting the safety of all New Yorkers," said a DoorDash spokesperson.

New York City Councilmember Christopher Marte, who represents the district where Tuesday's fire took place, was more direct in placing the responsibility for what's behind the conditions that led to four deaths. 

"It's totally on them," Marte said. "We need the UberEats, the DoorDash's, to step up. We need the City Council to force them to act."

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Hell Gate

See all posts