Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on June 15, 2022.

Big Apple E-Ban?
A proposed prohibition of e-bikes and e-scooters from public housing in New York City would affect over half a million people. The idea has resulted in a sharp backlash.


To address the fire risk posed by personal e-bikes and e-scooters, the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, is considering a new rule that has generated significant opposition, prompting many observers to predict it won’t be followed even if it is eventually passed.

In June, NYCHA confirmed with NFPA Journal that it was considering a new rule that would prohibit anyone living in public housing from bringing even a single e-bike or e-scooter into their homes, including the common areas of buildings. It would be one of the strictest micromobility device bans in the world and would affect more than half a million New Yorkers. (Officially, about 340,000 New Yorkers live in public housing. In reality, experts believe the figure is closer to 600,000.)

Previously, such bans have only been implemented for transportation infrastructure or government buildings, not in residences. In London, for instance, government officials banned e-scooters from the city’s buses and subway system in December 2021, citing fire safety concerns. Two months later, both e-bikes and e-scooters were banned from the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament meets.

The New York City ban would follow other recent changes made in the city in the name of e-bike and e-scooter safety. As of April, the New York City Fire Code has included limitations on storing or charging more than five electric micromobility devices in one area. Additionally, the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) has banned e-bikes and e-scooters from all of its office buildings, with the exception of devices used by disabled people.

The proposed NYCHA ban is meant to stem the kinds of dangerous, costly incidents that Joe Jardin, chief of fire prevention at FDNY, said his department has been responding to on a weekly basis for a couple of years now. “Our hazardous materials unit has to respond to every single one of these incidents,” he said. “There’s a budget impact there.” In 2021, a week before Christmas, a man died and three other people were seriously injured when a fire broke out because of e-bikes being charged in an East Village apartment building. The property was owned by the city’s housing authority. On August 3, two people, including a 5-year-old girl, died in a blaze sparked by an e-scooter charging inside an apartment unit in an East Harlem public housing building.


'E-bikes are an important alternative mode of transportation that is particularly affordable when compared to cars. Therefore, I think it would be particularly odd to ban e-bikes solely for people with limited incomes.'

Those critical of the proposed NYCHA rule change say it unfairly targets poorer New Yorkers. A report published earlier this year by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the advocacy group Los Deliveristas Unidos found that the majority of food delivery workers in New York make below minimum wage, even with tips, and many of these workers rely on personal e-bikes or e-scooters to carry out their jobs.

“I’m not sure why e-bikes would pose more of a safety hazard in public housing than they would in private housing,” said Howard Yaruss, co-chairman of the CB7 Transportation Committee in Manhattan, who has been a vocal proponent of e-bikes. “E-bikes are an important alternative mode of transportation that is particularly affordable when compared to cars. Therefore, I think it would be particularly odd to ban e-bikes solely for people with limited incomes.”


The challenges of enforcing such a ban aren’t lost on stakeholders, either. “We’re talking about a stricter rule than even what the fire code now calls for, and I envision enforcement challenges to that,” said Paul Rogers, a former FDNY lieutenant who now runs the Energy Storage Response Group (ESRG), a group that advises fire departments internationally on creating site-specific emergency response plans for energy storage systems in their jurisdictions. “Any time we’re talking about asking people to keep their bikes or scooters outside, crime is always a concern.” An article that appeared in New York magazine and the tech news website The Verge detailed how New York City’s food delivery workers are sometimes jumped and violently beaten for their e-bikes, which are easy to run off with and typically cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000.

“I think it would be a difficult ban to enforce unless there’s a fire, or if a resident reports another neighbor for keeping a device in their home,” said Bob Duval, director of the northeast region for NFPA. At the same time, Duval said, he wasn’t surprised by the proposed ban, considering that New York “seems to have a fire daily involving e-bikes or their batteries.”

The proposed ban isn’t entirely without precedent—NYCHA leases already prohibit residents from storing gas-powered mopeds inside buildings. In a way, the question has become whether e-bikes are akin to traditional bicycles or more like mopeds, a debate that has raged for years—and will likely continue for years to come. Much of the conversation centers on whether e-bikes belong in bike lanes or among vehicular traffic. E-bikes remain technically illegal to ride on public roads in some cities, but that doesn’t stop a lot of riders from doing exactly that. With the proposed ban on the table, whether e-bikes should be kept outside or inside buildings could be the next big question up for debate.

In Nick Petrakis’s opinion, enforcement of any e-bike or e-scooter regulation has to be accompanied by public education efforts designed to reverse the mindset of some micromobility advocates who insist that e-bikes “don’t catch fire.”

Petrakis, an engineer and former assistant deputy director at the FDNY’s Bureau of Fire Prevention who now works with Rogers at the ESRG, was instrumental in writing the recent changes to the city’s fire code pertaining to electric micromobility devices. “I was in Queens a few days ago, and I was walking down the street and I passed a couple of bike shops and they had eight or nine e-bikes parked outside,” Petrakis said. “I peeked inside, and they had way more e-bikes charging in there, which could be a violation of the new code language that requires enhanced protection for areas with more than five devices. These industries just aren’t that familiar with the fire code.”

Rogers agreed with Petrakis about the need for increased education and pointed to restaurants as another occupancy type where building owners may not be educated enough on the hazard the new technology introduces. “I know there are restaurants in the city that have purchased several e-bikes for their delivery workers and they just aren’t familiar with what fire safety measures should be in place where these bikes are being stored and charged,” he said.

In an email to NFPA Journal, a spokesperson for NYCHA said the housing authority would be taking public comments on its proposal through September 6, “at which time NYCHA will review stakeholder feedback and amend the rule accordingly.” The authority said the ban could go into effect as soon as October.

On Reddit, a popular social media site that hosts several forums for e-bike enthusiasts, many have spoken out about the proposed ban and even indicated they wouldn’t follow it if it did pass. “I really hope this doesn’t happen,” one user wrote. “I can’t afford a car. I won’t let them take my bike.”

ANGELO VERZONI is the associate editor of NFPA Journal. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni. Top photograph: Getty Images