Skip scooters are returning to Washington, DC after battery fires

Following battery issues and a single-alarm fire caused by improperly disposed of batteries in Washington, D.C., Skip has been given the green light to resume operations in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas of Alexandria and Arlington. The plan is to redeploy the scooters in the coming weeks.

In June, a battery on one of Skip’s scooters caught fire in D.C., prompting the company to ground its scooters in both D.C. and San Francisco. The scooter in question was found with its external battery on fire, which caused “minor damage” to a wall nearby. In light of that incident, Skip identified other potential at-risk batteries and quarantined them in its warehouse.

“In DC, they weren’t disposed of properly, which helped create the right conditions for a single-alarm fire,” Skip wrote in a blog post. “After the incident, DDOT asked us to suspend operations. Frankly, that was the right call. We didn’t just let our cities and riders down, we let ourselves down.”

Since then, Skip says it has consulted with battery experts and OSHA compliance firms to put in place new procedures and operations around handling and disposing of damaged equipment. Now, Skip has real-time monitoring and alerting for battery and vehicle issues to ensure batteries are disposed of before exhibiting any safety issues. Among other steps, Skip is now reporting its handling of batteries and employee injuries to the District Department of Transportation.

Skip is not the only micromobility company that has experienced issues with battery fires. Last month, a couple of Lyft’s electric bike batteries caught on fire in San Francisco, prompting the company to pull its bikes from the streets. Late last year, Lime recalled some of its Ninebot scooters due to fire concerns.

And battery fires do not only affect electric bikes and scooters. You may remember the year of the exploding hoverboards, as well as exploding smartphones and laptops. What all of those have in common are lithium-ion batteries, which are very commonly used for portable electronics and now, personal electric vehicles. The downside to these types of batteries is potential overheating, which can lead to a failure mode called “thermal runaway” and result in a battery fire.

Other potential issues that can lead to battery failure are bad design and the mere fact that scooters can be banged around by users. In the case of Skip, the issue seemed to fall on the latter.

“The investigation found the main cause to be physical damage, but it was not able to determine whether the damage was intentional or unintentional,” a Skip spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Given the amount of scrutiny all of these companies are under, coupled with their reliance on approval from cities, the likes of Skip, Lyft and Lime need to make sure their respective safety procedures are buttoned up if they want to thrive in this space.