Navigating the Road Ahead: Supporting Safer Micromobility in Our Communities
COMMENTARY

May 16, 2024by Julius West, Senior Manager of Federal Affairs, Uber
Navigating the Road Ahead: Supporting Safer Micromobility in Our Communities
A person on an electric bicycle pauses on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Electric bike and scooter adoption is taking off — literally. 

According to market research firm Circana, U.S. e-bike sales in 2022 approached nearly $1 billion. And despite being more expensive than traditional bicycles, e-bikes saw 14% sales growth whereas total bike sales declined by 12%.

More people on e-bikes means fewer emissions from private car trips and more pleasant, people-centered cities. On any given day in places like Washington, D.C., or New York, a growing number of people are using e-bikes to commute to work, get groceries or deliver food on platforms like Uber Eats.

While cities are seeing many benefits from increased e-bike use right now, this ridership growth must be paired with sensible safety standards for the lithium-ion batteries that power e-bikes. 

A spate of battery fires in recent years has underscored the need for comprehensive measures to address this safety risk. According to fire officials in New York City, the problem boils down to cheaply made lithium-ion batteries that “haven’t been safety tested and certified by an accredited testing laboratory” such as the widely accepted UL certification

State and local lawmakers in New York have recently taken steps to address this issue, but more can be done at the federal level to ensure that similar safety concerns do not arise elsewhere. Without a national standard, e-commerce companies and online retailers will continue to sell these devices with little regard for safety, and it will remain near impossible for cities to crack down.

The Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-Ion Batteries Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., addresses these concerns, and would direct the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to implement a baseline for reasonable safety standards and guidelines for e-bikes. The bill would also have CPSC set safety guidelines for charging cables, recharging stations and other devices used in conjunction with these batteries.

Stringent battery safety protocols must be an important element of a comprehensive framework for mitigating risks and fostering responsible usage of e-bikes and scooters, and this bill is a critical step towards that for consumers. The House just voted to pass the bill, which had previously passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee in December with unanimous support from all 52 Democratic and Republican members of the committee.

A wide range of stakeholders, including the National Volunteer Fire Council, Consumer Federation of America and companies like Uber, have expressed their support for the Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-Ion Batteries Act.

As these organizations put it, “no one sector — public safety, private industry, consumer or environmental advocacy — can comprehensively address this growing problem alone. A strong national safety standard enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission is the only solution.”  

As a leader in on-demand transportation, Uber supports efforts to set safety standards for lithium-ion batteries in e-bikes because we know that safer multimodal transportation options are not only good for delivery couriers — they’re good for everyone in our communities. 

Uber has taken steps of its own to reduce safety risks from these devices. For example, in New York City Uber helped fund a program for delivery couriers to trade in their uncertified e-bikes for newer, safer, UL-certified ones. 

Without a national safety standard, other places across the country could continue to see tragic fires because of substandard lithium-ion batteries. 

These accidents, however, are avoidable. Now is the time for the government to establish a national safety standard, and soon, Congress will have the opportunity to make it happen.


Julius West is a senior manager of Federal Affairs at Uber. He was previously a congressional aide and chief of staff. He can be reached on LinkedIn.

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