Colleges restrict e-bikes on campuses to prevent fires

May 16, 2024

Fordham University bans e-bikes over fire concerns

Fordham University has implemented a ban on electric bikes (e-bikes) from its Bronx campus to prevent potential fire hazards, as reported by The Hechinger Report.

The decision followed an incident in late 2022 where a Manhattan apartment fire, caused by a lithium-ion battery in an e-bike, led to widespread concern.

Robert Fitzer, Fordham’s associate vice president for public safety, crafted the policy to prohibit e-bikes from the campus grounds, citing the compact size of the campus as a reason students do not need them for transportation.

These fires have been frequent in New York City and other areas.

In February, a fire in a Harlem apartment building caused by an e-bike battery resulted in the death of The Hechinger Report’s data reporter, Fazil Khan.

This tragic event has pushed universities and cities like New York and San Francisco to create regulations to manage the risk posed by these devices.

Federal and local responses to e-bike fire hazards

Currently, there is no federal legislation regulating e-bike batteries, though there is ongoing discussion in Congress.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, damaged, overcharged, or overheated lithium-ion batteries can cause fires, producing toxic gases and intense heat.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) encourages manufacturers to follow voluntary standards for e-bike batteries set by UL Standards & Engagement.

At the University of Connecticut, a policy bans motorized personal transportation vehicles from entering campus buildings.

Deputy fire chief Christopher Renshaw highlighted the risk of incorrect maintenance and improper charging as major fire hazards.

He noted that students often assume compatibility between outlets and devices, which is not always the case.

City-level measures to mitigate e-bike fire risks

New York City has taken significant steps to address the issue.

A law enacted last September mandates that all mobility devices using lithium-ion batteries sold or rented in the city must comply with UL standards.

Additionally, the city received a $25 million federal grant to install nearly 200 outdoor charging stations and over 50 e-bike storage sites.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand emphasized the importance of safe storage and charging to prevent faulty batteries from causing harm.

San Francisco also implemented new regulations limiting the number of e-bikes and scooters that can be charged in apartments and requiring certified batteries for these devices.

Last year, lithium-ion batteries caused 58 fires in the city.

Universities develop their own e-bike policies

Various universities are establishing their own rules regarding e-bikes.

Yale and Boston College restrict the use and charging locations of these devices, and Quinnipiac University bans them from dormitories entirely.

Mark DeVilbiss, director of housing at Quinnipiac, mentioned the institution’s safety committee frequently consults with its insurance and risk management company, United Educators, to update their policies.

United Educators, which advises educational institutions on risk management, has noted a shift in concerns from e-scooter accidents to the fire risks associated with lithium-ion batteries.

Christine McHugh, senior risk management counsel, pointed out that indoor charging was not initially a significant issue but has now become a primary concern.

FSJA Comment

The increasing prevalence of e-bikes and other electric mobility devices on college campuses has brought to light the urgent need for effective safety measures.

The tragic death of Fazil Khan and the numerous incidents of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries underscore the potential dangers these devices pose when not properly managed.

Fordham University’s proactive approach in banning e-bikes from its campus highlights the immediate steps some institutions are willing to take to ensure student safety.

The lack of federal legislation specifically addressing e-bike batteries suggests that more comprehensive regulations may be necessary to mitigate risks nationwide.

Meanwhile, local initiatives, such as those in New York City and San Francisco, demonstrate the critical role of city governments in setting safety standards.

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