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Politics & Policy

E-Scooter Batteries Are Bursting Into Flames. Feds Want Crackdown

Written by Eddie SunPublished Jul. 27, 2023 • 12:37pm
Lime rideshare scooters near Mission and Second streets in San Francisco | Source: Yalonda M. James/The SF Chronicle via Getty Images

Fires linked to lithium-ion batteries in e-scooters and electric bicycles have continued to rise in San Francisco since 2017, according to fire department data.

There were 13 battery-caused fires in 2017; that number grew to 58 in 2022. So far in 2023, there have been 24 battery-caused fires in the city, data shows.

An e-scooter caught fire Monday morning in an apartment in the Tenderloin neighborhood. One person suffered serious burn injuries as a result of the fire. Fire officials said the lithium-ion battery likely caused the incident.

The rise of battery-powered vehicles and the fires associated with them have become a cause of concern across the country as well. Federal lawmakers introduced legislation in June that seeks to set mandatory safety standards for the lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes and scooters.

The lawmakers say many of the batteries bought online or obtained from secondhand markets lack safety certifications.

A commuter rides an e-scooter on Townsend Street in San Francisco. | Source: Photo by Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

E-bikes and scooters are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which are also found in many other everyday devices such as laptops, smartphones and electric cars. However, these batteries can overheat, catch fire and potentially explode if they are overcharged or if they are defective.

While San Francisco lawmakers have introduced regulations designed to make riding e-bikes and scooters safer, there are currently no restrictions in San Francisco on where these “micromobility” vehicles can be charged and stored, according to fire officials. 

“There are ongoing, multi-agency efforts to evaluate and address issues with lithium-ion batteries. [The fire department] is one of the many agencies involved and we are also coordinating with other local and state jurisdictions nationwide,” the San Francisco Fire Department said in a statement to The Standard.

There is currently a minimum of 2,800 Bay Wheels rideshare e-bikes in San Francisco, the city’s transit agency told The Standard. The agency also allows Lime and Spin––the two scooter companies with permits to operate locally––to have a maximum of 2,000 scooters on the city’s streets. These numbers don’t include privately owned e-scooters or e-bikes. Safety issues with e-scooters extend beyond their fire risk. There were 454 scooter injuries between 2020 and 2022—a 213% increase from 2017 to 2019. Deaths involving scooters were nonexistent in San Francisco before 2020; there have been seven since, according to the transit agency. A July 8 e-scooter crash on Market Street resulted in a pedestrian death of a Dutch national.

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