Dangerous e-bikes: Trade-in scheme falls flat in New York

Despite fire risks, only two bikes have been traded in for more reputable models, leaving potentially dangerous batteries on the streets

Clock13:20, Wednesday 13th September 2023
We bought the cheapest e-bike on Amazon to see if it's any good

© GCN

We bought the cheapest e-bike on Amazon to see if it's any good

In recent months, we've seen more and more instances of E-bike batteries setting fire. The New York Times reported that there have been over 100 e-bike fires in New York this year, killing 14 people and injuring 96 more.

In most cases, the fires are caused by cheap, non-brand E-bikes; uncertified e-bikes from online marketplaces are affordable, but they don't come with the safety guarantee that big-brand, high-price E-bikes do.

To tackle the problem in NYC, in July, the Equitable Commute Project launched an E-bike and E-scooter trade-in scheme, intended to help the city's army of over 60,000 delivery riders give up their uncertified E-bikes and exchange them for better quality, safer E-bikes. The scheme allowed delivery riders to trade in their existing bikes for a Tern E-bike, available at a heavily discounted price of $1,900.

Yet since July, just two bikes and one E-scooter have been traded in. The New York Times reports that the high price of the bikes has deterred many delivery riders.

Over 200 delivery workers have applied for a trade-in, but a number of barriers have meant that in the end, very few bikes have changed hands. Some applicants didn't meet the requirement to have been delivering for over six months; some didn't respond when contacted; some couldn't come up with the money required for the trade-in.

To increase accessibility to the new certified bikes, the Equitable Commute Project have since added two more bikes to the program, both of which are substantially cheaper than the Tern Quick Haul. The Aventon Level.2 is available for $928, and the Velotric Go1 is available for $700.

The numbers suggest the cheaper bikes are far more attractive to New York's delivery workers; the New York Times reports that 11 trade-ins are scheduled for September, 10 of which are for the new, cheaper bikes.

Even so, the scheme is still facing challenges, and many are considering other routes to get these unsafe batteries off the streets of New York. Some think that the food delivery companies should be responsible for outfitting their workers with safe bikes, while Uber, one of the most popular food delivery companies operating in the city, says a small fee on each order, paid by customers, is the best way to raise a fund for safe e-bikes.

Meanwhile, Uber has partnered with electric bike producer Zoomo to offer an affordable E-bike rental scheme to Uber delivery riders, with bikes available for $99 a month. Uber also offers a trade-in program of its own; riders can trade in an uncertified E-bike and receive $200 towards a new Zoomo E-bike.

As for the Equitable Commute Project, they see their program as a starting point. From here, it's for local government, businesses and customers to work together to improve the safety of the city's delivery riders. Co-founder Marianna Koval told the New York Times: "We're trying to show how it could be done, but we don't have the money to do it on a scale that's necessary to ensure the safety of our delivery worker community."

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