San Francisco to set new rules for e-bikes, scooters powered by lithium-ion batteries

Lyanne Melendez Image
Tuesday, February 20, 2024
SF to have rules for mobility devices powered by lithium-ion batteries
The way electric mobility devices like an e-bike, electric scooter or skateboard are charged in San Francisco is about to change.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If you own an electric mobility device like an e-bike, electric scooter or skateboard in San Francisco, the way you charge or store those devices is about to change. The city's Board of Supervisors voted to create safety standards for some devices powered by lithium-ion batteries.

Electric bikes and e-scooters continue to be part of San Francisco's attempt to improve urban mobility.

Even city government is testing a pilot program where food delivery workers are using e-bikes instead of cars in an attempt to reduce emissions and traffic congestion.

MORE: 5 injured, 8 displaced in overnight fire caused by lithium-ion battery SF high-rise, firefighters say

Firefighters say two residents jumped out of their window to get out of the building, but everyone injured is expected to be OK.

But with more of them on our streets, it was inevitable that new rules for how they are stored and charged would follow.

Here's why.

MORE: How to prevent e-bikes, e-scooters from starting a fire

A fire overnight at an apartment complex in San Francisco's Sunset District is believed to have been started by an e-bike lithium-ion battery.

San Francisco's Fire Marshal who showed us pictures of fires started by faulty batteries, causing extensive property damage.

Since 2017, the number of fires associated with a lithium-ion battery has increased every year with a high of 58 in 2022. The data for 2023 is still being compiled.

During that six-year period one person was killed and eight others were injured.

The fire marshal says fires related to overheated lithium batteries are a serious problem.

"We can't put those out. They generate their own oxygen. We can put water on it to cool it and keep other things from burning around it, but we have to wait until that fire burns out," warned Fire Marshal, Ken Cofflin.

In March, a new set of standards for charging and storing these batteries used to power mobility devices will go into effect.

Anyone living in a multi-unit building will now be limited to four lithium-powered mobility devices per household and they must be parked three feet apart when charging. Each one must be plugged into its own electrical outlet, not a power strip.

The new rule doesn't apply to single-family homes.

"The other part of our campaign is get yourself a chance to get out, so if you're charging it don't charge it by the front door when you first pull it in," added Cofflin.

The new code also states that refurbished and damaged batteries are not allowed.

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced the legislation.

"They should be buying products that have been certified by underwriters laboratories, UL approved that they should not be using different charges other than the chargers that were made to go with those. They should not be using extension cords during charging," advised Peskin.

But repair shops like The New Wheel say they now face numerous challenges because of the new regulations.

"Here in this warehouse, we have mechanic stands and each one of them is set up with an organized charging stations and typically our mechanics charge the bike while they're working on it which is a highly safe context. They are standing there with the battery and because of the new power strip rule, we will have to find another solution," explained Karen Wiener of The Big Wheel.

That will likely mean installing new power outlets for each and every battery that needs to be charged.

"We will need to do some pretty significant upgrades in this space and I haven't yet figured out exactly how we will do that," said Wiener.

The shop says they have never had any issues and the vast majority of the bicycles they work on, have UL certified batteries clearly marked.

MORE: Bay Area lawmaker proposing restrictions on electric bikes for minors

One Bay Area lawmaker is concerned about the soaring number of e-bike accidents with kids, he is looking to set an age limit.

But the reality is that some of the batteries out there are not UL certified because not everyone can afford them.

Remember the hoverboard fad of a few years ago and how some caught on fire? 25,000 of them were recalled.

Some e-bikes and e-scooters have those cheaper batteries as well.

"Thousands exist in the city right now that are not UL certified. We want to make sure that people who depend on those devices for their living are able to make a transition to better devices as quickly as possible. We want the Board of Supervisors address that," explained Christopher White of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

MORE: 4 dead after fire breaks out in New York e-bike repair shop

The Bike Coalition is asking for economic incentives to help people buy safe batteries.

The city has also been working with companies that rent these mobility devices.

"To actually put them in contained cabinets that are fire rated and have them on wheels so they can be pushed out of the buildings," added Supervisor Peskin.

The city says this is not about punishing people, but rather building an information safety campaign.

"That campaign really needs to promote the use of these devices for the sake of the city while making sure that people are doing it safely," said White.

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