NYC Tests Battery Swapping for E-Bikes

The city has launched an initiative aimed at reducing the danger of battery fires, a number of which have resulted from e-bike batteries being recharged within residential apartment blocks, as the fire department has reported. More on the scheme and its potential role in fire prevention can be found in my recent article. Meanwhile, let me share with you what I learned from talking to delivery riders and startups at the program’s launch.

On a blustery day towards the end of February, I made my way through the crowds of delivery workers who had gathered in Manhattan’s Cooper Square. As they waited their turn, they either sat astride their bikes or grouped them together. Their cargo racks were adorned with vibrant bags bearing the logos of various delivery services.

Municipal employees at tables beneath canopy tents were busy assigning the riders to one of the three startups partnering with the city for this novel scheme. Swiftmile, one of these firms, is designing rapid-charge e-bike racks for the drivers. The other two, Popwheels and Swobbee, plan to introduce battery swapping to the city.

Battery swapping is gaining in popularity around the globe, although it remains less frequent in the US. Therefore, I was quite interested in the two firms offering battery swapping stations. Swobbee, headquartered in Germany, operates a limited network of exchange stations worldwide. This company is modifying bikes to house its battery, which is attached to the bike’s rear. Popwheels, on the other hand, is taking a slightly different tack, supplying batteries compatible with most e-bikes used by delivery drivers, with minimal necessary modifications.

I watched as a Popwheels employee showcased the firm’s battery swapping station to several newly registered drivers. Each driver would step up to the Popwheels cabinet, about the size of a bookshelf with 16 metal doors numbered at the front. After some taps on their smartphone, a door would open, revealing a space for a spent battery, along with a cable for its connection. After placing the battery in the locker and shutting the door, another door would open, disclosing a completely charged e-bike battery the rider could unplug and take out. As simple as that!