Uber will fund an e-bike buy-back program to help combat battery fires

Uber says it will fund an e-bike buy-back program for delivery workers in New York City in a bid to get fire-prone batteries off the streets. The company also said it would support an additional fee on food deliveries to help workers afford safer options.

The announcement comes amid a worrisome rise in e-bike fires in New York City that have resulted in at least a dozen deaths. Two children were killed last night in Astoria, Queens, in a fire that authorities say was the result of an exploding lithium-ion battery, according to multiple news outlets.

The New York City Council recently passed legislation prohibiting the sale of uncertified e-bikes and other micromobility devices, while Mayor Eric Adams has called on the private companies that profit from e-bike deliveries to do more.

Uber is working with e-bike company Zoomo and a nonprofit called the Equitable Commute Project on two different trade-in programs. According to the company, delivery workers can trade in older e-bikes for credit that they can invest in a new e-bike, as well as access “rent-to-own pricing models and priority repairs and services.” The amount of credit a delivery worker can receive is still being worked on, but according to Streetsblog, Zoomo expects to offer at least $200 for an old e-bike.

Meanwhile, the Equitable Commute Project will pilot a trade-in program with local bike shops that will offer a discounted UL-certified e-bike in exchange for a “non-compliant device.” UL, formerly known as Underwriters Laboratory, is a private company known for certifying the safety of all sorts of everyday products.

Delivery workers, most of whom are low-income immigrant men, rely on their e-bikes to make a living. According to a study conducted by WXY Studios and commissioned by Uber, demand for e-bikes and other micromobility vehicles has increased since 2020. Over 65,000 of New York’s food delivery workers rely on e-bikes, most of which run on cheaper lithium-ion batteries that have been linked to fires and injuries.

The problem is that UL-certified batteries tend to be more expensive than uncertified ones, and delivery workers take home just $7.09 an hour on average, according to city labor statistics. Many find it difficult to afford a UL-certified battery, which can cost $1,000 or more.

The problem is that UL-certified batteries tend to be more expensive than uncertified ones

“Delivery workers should not have to choose between making a living and safety,” said Josh Gold, senior director for public policy at Uber, in a statement. “These innovative partnerships will help get safer e-bikes into the hands of delivery workers.”

Adams, who recently announced that all ridehail vehicles that operate in the city will have to be electric by 2030, praised Uber for “stepping up to the plate to help in a major way.”

“E-bikes have become a critical part of our transportation and employment ecosystem, but faulty and non-certified devices are making their way into homes and apartments, causing fires and putting lives at risk,” Adams said in a statement.

Uber has not said how much money it will spend on the buy-back program, though it did say it plans on donating $100,000 to the FDNY Foundation to be used for an e-bike safety education campaign.

The company also came out in support of adding “a small fee to all food delivery in New York City to support transitioning workers to UL-certified e-bikes.” In addition, Uber said it backs a bill in the New York State Legislature that would establish a “clean rebate program” for e-bikes.


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