New York

Four more people died in an e-bike fire.They won’t be the last if nothing changes | New York

T.There were piles of charred bicycles, scooters, wheels and battery cases. A distinctive acidic smell of burnt chemicals. Where once delivery men chatted in line waiting for repairs, it is now a pitch-black ruin, with mobs of brooding neighborhoods spreading behind police tape. It was a sight that had become frighteningly common, after another deadly lithium battery fire. new york city.

Shortly after midnight on Tuesday, four people died in hell, including a 71-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman. growing problem The country’s most densely populated city claimed 13 lives this year, compared with six similar deaths in 2022 as a whole. The blaze was caused by cheap and dangerous batteries that power the two-wheeled vehicles used by the city’s 65,000 delivery workers. To meet the demand of Silicon Valley gig platform. And without decisive action, more carnage will surely follow.

Tuesday’s disaster, the 108th lithium battery-related fire in New York City this year, broke out at a store called HQ E-bike Repair on a busy immigrant street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and quickly destroyed the apartment above. spread to The store had previously been accused of battery charging violations, according to New York City Fire Chief Laura Kavanagh. But lithium battery fires often cause explosions, and victims have little chance to react, she said. “The amount of fire produced by these lithium-ion batteries is incredibly lethal…we’ve said this many times, but it can make it nearly impossible to escape in time.” I have.”

Firefighters removed windows from the six-story building in the aftermath of the fire this week. Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP

Among the people who gathered at the wreckage of the store was Alberto Lugo, a former regular customer who lives down the street. “A lot of shops charge for arms and legs, but the owner was very fair,” Lugo told me. He recalled that the owner was “careful” not to charge the device indoors, and said he used to do repair work on the sidewalk. “So when I heard that story this morning, it brought tears to my eyes because they are good people,” he says.

Fire departments recommend using only batteries certified by UL Solutions, a rigorous safety testing agency, but electric bikes using these batteries can easily cost thousands of dollars. That’s out of reach for most delivery workers and immigrant city dwellers, who tend to buy off-brand vehicles, batteries and chargers at a fraction of the cost. Walk into an e-bike shop in New York City and you’ll often see batteries charging side by side on overloaded power strips. But even when not charged, batteries stored in confined spaces can catch fire and set off a chain reaction.

The New York City Council recently passed a measure banning the sale of electric bicycles, scooters and batteries that are not UL certified, as well as their repair or resale. It doesn’t do much for the countless New Yorkers who still use uncertified equipment and don’t have the means to get rid of it.

One is another former customer of the store, Mr. Wu, in his 60s. Even as I stood in front of the smoldering car, he told me I didn’t have to worry about my cheap e-bike catching fire. The odds of that happening, he reasoned, are like “winning the lottery.” “Most importantly, it’s good and cheap.” Another onlooker was Terrence, 57, an e-bike owner from the Bronx, whose father was a firefighter. However, “I’ve had an e-bike he’s been using for five or six years now with this type of battery and never had a problem,” he says.

Even those who are afraid to take risks feel stuck. Gustavo Aixe, a delivery man and founder of the labor group Los Deliveristas Unidos, carries two batteries with him when he works so he can travel long distances. He can’t make a living without his battery. But he can’t afford to replace a non-UL certified pack, so all he can do is charge more carefully. “When I get home I charge it a little bit and the next day I charge it a bit more because I don’t want to get into this kind of mess with this fire,” he says.

Recently, Los Deliveristas helped secure the city’s first minimum wage for delivery workers ($17.96 an hour), which has sought to appease investors by raising prices while cutting workers’ wages. It defied fierce opposition from gig companies like Uber and DoorDash. Heitze says tech companies are equally helpless in dealing with the lithium battery problem. Uber recently announced that: trade-in system Employees can reportedly exchange their old e-bikes for as little as $200 in credit for new UL-certified e-bikes costing more than $3,000. Aziche says she laughed out loud when she heard the offer. “Just kidding,” he said. “They are not here to help us, they are just trying to make money.”

According to a DoorDash spokesperson, DoorDash’s only monetary donation is first aid only, giving the New York City Fire Department $100,000 to “help expand fire safety messaging, education and activism.” donated.

Grubhub, which donated $100,000 to the Fire Department, partnered with e-bike sharing platform Djoko to open a “rest stop” in downtown Manhattan, plus free rental of safety-certified e-bikes to 500 top delivery workers. provided. ”For delivery workers. It’s a promising idea, but Aziche said a fully charged Djoko bike can only travel about 30 miles, about half the working hours of a typical worker, and Djoko’s battery-swap hub is the busiest. Workers are unhappy with the fact that it is closed in the evening.

“No single company, manufacturer or organization can solve this problem,” Grubhub’s vice president of government relations, Amy Perrik-Healey, told The Guardian. We will continue to collect data that will help us know how we can best support you.” Forward”. uber It did not respond to a request for comment.

Aziche said workers like him could benefit from a city-backed battery replacement program if gig companies don’t respond aggressively, adding that owners of electric bikes and electric scooters in New York City could benefit. , said it might allow questionable packs to be exchanged for certified packs. But a promising battery-replacement bill proposed in the spring by Manhattan City Councilman Keith Powers has yet to reach a vote. Also, with a wide variety of micro-mobility devices and battery formats out there, and he well over $1,000 per UL battery, this program can be expensive.

Lithium-ion batteries were damaged at the fire scene this week.
Lithium-ion batteries were damaged at the fire scene this week. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

Meanwhile, delivery men have been fighting for another solution. charging hub It is installed in a place with a lot of traffic in the city, delivery man You can safely rest and recharge your batteries. The idea got off to a rocky start after Senator Chuck Schumer pledged $1 million in federal funding and was approved by New York City last year. A proposed charging hub on the swanky Upper West Side soon met fierce resistance from wealthy residents, which is “sad,” said Aziche. “They need delivery services, but they don’t want us near them.”

But with no one willing to take responsibility for prevention, more batteries will explode and more people will die. The last similar incident occurred in April, when a 7-year-old and a teenage boy died when a bicycle that was charging at the building’s front door suddenly caught fire on the second floor of an apartment building. It took only three minutes for the firefighters to reach the house, but they were already running up the stairs of hell. The fire department said the victims “didn’t stand a chance.” Four more people died in an e-bike fire.They won’t be the last if nothing changes | New York

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