The city’s fire and buildings departments issued $6,400 in fines for electrical code violations at a SoHo e-bike charging hub operated by Grubhub and JOCO, after discovering five dozen lithium-ion batteries they deemed not authorized for use in the U.S.
Grubhub and JOCO, a bike rideshare company that currently aims its service at delivery workers, debuted the 259 Bowery location last month as part of their efforts to provide “continuous safe e-bike storage, battery exchange, and delivery rider gear,” Grubhub said at the time. Mayor Eric Adams helped cut the ribbon at the site’s opening on June 14.
A month later, on July 13, the city Department of Buildings found approximately 60 batteries “not listed for use in the U.S.,” and that all those batteries were plugged into three “non-approved, not listed” lithium battery charging cabinets, along with other violations of the city’s electrical code, summonses show.
The records describe the space as “a grub hub location” and cite the building’s property manager, Building Equity Management LLC, as the respondent for all four violations. Building Equity Management LLC did not respond to requests from THE CITY seeking comment.
Lisa Belot, a Grubhub spokesperson, described the situation as a “misunderstanding” and said the company and JOCO are working with the city to “clear up” the issue. JOCO management said their equipment is fully compliant with the law.
“It’s gonna be clarified very, very quickly. And we’re fully certified and the city is fully knowledgeable of what batteries we use,” JOCO co-founder and CEO Jonathan Cohen said on Thursday.
His co-founder and chief growth officer, who is also named Jonathan Cohen, added: “The FDNY has seen all the batteries we use. We’re fully in compliance today, and we continue to be fully compliant as things progress.”
The JOCO batteries at the hub are certified to an international safety standard known as IEC 62133, the co-founders said.
But legislation that Adams signed in March only approves a standard known as UL 2271, while leaving open the possibility of approving other safety standards in the future – including, potentially, European standards, according to a source.
A DOB spokesperson declined to comment on the standards, citing the open violations.
The Bowery inspection came weeks after a fire consumed a Chinatown e-bike repair shop and killed four people who lived upstairs.
The DOB found multiple other “violating conditions” of the city’s electrical code during the July 13 visit, including new electrical equipment that was installed without a permit, open electrical panels, uncovered outlets and “extension cords that are being improperly used as a permanent wiring method,” and imposed a $1,600 fine for each of four violations.
The property owner will have the opportunity to challenge the fines before the city Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.
On Thursday, Cohen, the CGO, said those violations are from a prior tenant and that “the landlord is fixing it.”
The hub, described by the two companies as a pilot to last six months, is available exclusively to JOCO users. Delivery workers who have JOCO user credits can charge the company’s batteries or swap them for fully charged ones. Riders can also take out and return JOCO bikes at the Bowery location or at more than 50 JOCO locations across the city.
Cohen, the CGO, said that the rental company allows delivery riders to work without shouldering the costs of purchasing and maintaining an e-bike, which can run thousands of dollars, and without worrying about charging e-bikes at home. The company’s mission is informed by his own experience as an e-bike user living in a New York City walk-up apartment, he said.
“What we do is remove people from charging their batteries in their homes — and most delivery workers don’t want to charge their batteries in their homes,” he continued. “So we’re removing that hassle.”
At the same inspection, the FDNY issued JOCO and the building owner a violation for failing to provide certifications for the site’s charging cabinets, and gave the company 30 days to prove it has the proper paperwork in order to get the violation lifted, agency spokesperson Amanda Farinacci said. The agency is looking at JOCO’s other locations as part of its ongoing efforts to inspect e-bike storage and repair shops across the city.
“Upholding stringent safety standards for electrical work is critically important to our efforts to keep New Yorkers safe and out of harm’s way,” Department of Buildings spokesperson David Maggiotto said in a statement Thursday. “Obtaining permits and other DOB approvals for electrical projects is a necessary step to confirm that the work complies with our safety standards and will be performed by a qualified professional.”
‘Doing the Right Thing’ for Deliveristas
The pivot came after pressure from the city Department of Transportation, which sued JOCO in 2021 for allegedly launching its business without prior authorization. City lawyers argued in court filings that the start-up threatened to cut into the city’s agreement granting Citi Bike exclusive rights to operate within its service area; JOCO countered that they had followed the law by keeping their docking stations on private property.
This month, Grubhub and other app-based food delivery platforms sued the Adams administration to temporarily block a planned $17.96 hourly minimum wage for delivery workers from taking effect.
During a walk-through with a reporter on June 27, the company touted the Bowery hub’s three large charging cabinets capable of charging dozens of batteries at a time — developed, in part, by JOCO. A Grubhub representative also led the tour.
Cohen, JOCO’s CEO, declined to explain or to answer questions about how or with whom it developed the charging cabinets, citing confidentiality agreements. The JOCO co-founders later said their company is in the process of applying to patent the cabinet.
They said the cabinet was vetted by an OSHA Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), but declined to say which one, citing confidentiality agreements. NRTLs are private organizations approved by the federal government to perform certifications for the construction and use of electrical equipment, including e-bikes and e-bike batteries. The standards governing lithium ion e-bike battery charging cabinets are still under review.
Delivery workers who visit the Bowery concierge can also charge their cell phones, cool off and rest, and are sometimes treated to free pizza and branded gear from Grubhub and JOCO, including t-shirts, helmets, gloves and coolers. The hub is only open to paying JOCO members, though they do not need to pay an additional fee to use the space.
The two companies selected the Bowery location because of the area’s strong base of delivery riders drawn to the vibrant dining scene and hungry college students downtown. Though the partnership with Grubhub is aimed to only last six months, Cohen said during the June 27 walk-through that JOCO was there to stay: “We have no intention to close this hub down.”
“It might not be a profitable part of our larger network, but we’re doing the right thing for delivery drivers,” he declared. Liza Dee, the Grubhub representative, noted the space was “the first of its kind in New York.”
A pop-up delivery worker rest hub sponsored by Chick-fil-A earlier this year did not offer e-bike storage or charging services. A slate of public, federally-funded charging hubs championed by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer are still in development.
That afternoon, 23-year-old delivery worker Eduardo Cordón told THE CITY that JOCO’s e-bike rental model provided a lifeline to workers like him, who are starting out in the gig economy and do not yet own their own pricey e-bikes. He said that with a weekly plan, the cost of renting the bikes comes down to about $10 a day.
“It’s been a great blessing,” Cordón, who spoke in Spanish, said.