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Despite popularity, e-scooters still illegal in much of B.C.

A person rides an electric kick scooter in Vancouver. E-scooters have proliferated across B.C., but provincial laws governing them have yet to allow the devices in most municipalities. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A person rides an electric kick scooter in Vancouver. E-scooters have proliferated across B.C., but provincial laws governing them have yet to allow the devices in most municipalities. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Every day, Victoria resident Sammy Pullen gets on her electric kick scooter so she can do her job.

Pullen reads gas metres for a living, and travels about 25 kilometres a day. More than a year ago, a repetitive strain injury left her searching for alternatives to get around.

"An e-scooter seemed to be the ideal solution," she told CBC News. "It's a job saver."

Pullen can easily fit the scooter in her car to get to work. And unlike an e-bike, she can quickly jump on and off.

Across the province, people like Pullen are increasingly seeing the benefits of micro-mobility transportation like electric kick scooters and even electric unicycles.

Despite their popularity, these devices remain illegal across much of B.C. — except for the handful of cities taking part in a pilot program to test how the province might alter the Motor Vehicle Act to account for e-scooters specifically.

A person rides an electric kick scooter in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, February 22, 2023.
A person rides an electric kick scooter in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, February 22, 2023.

A person walks with his electric kick scooter in Vancouver, one of a few B.C. municipalities where the use of e-scooters are permitted as part of a provincial pilot project. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Those include cities in the Lower Mainland like Vancouver, North Vancouver and Richmond, and Kelowna in the Interior. On Vancouver Island, Nanaimo is the only municipality to have joined the program.

The program began in 2021, and was recently extended for another four years so the province can collect health and safety data on their use.

'Let's keep up with how people are choosing to move'

On Vancouver Island, the Capital Regional District's Transportation Committee recently reviewed a report on e-bikes and micro-mobility devices.

"The province hasn't kept up with this real proliferation of different ways of getting around other than in your car or walking," said Langford councillor Lillian Szpak, who chaired the meeting on Wednesday.

"Please — let's have some direction, let's have some legislation, let's keep up with how people are choosing to move around the region."

A person rides an electric kick scooter in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, February 22, 2023.
A person rides an electric kick scooter in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, February 22, 2023.

An e-scooter is pictured in Vancouver. Langford city councillor Lillian Szpak says apart from walking or driving, B.C 'hasn't kept up' with other ways of getting around. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The report says micro-mobility devices offer older and younger adults more independence, and the findings of the literature review show micro-mobility is "beneficial, when safely and consistently regulated."

The Capital Regional District only has governance over regional trails, like the Galloping Goose. To legalize the use of micro-mobility devices like electric kick scooters, the report says the region either has to wait until it creates a new transportation authority that governs regional roadways or until the province amends the Motor Vehicle Act.

As a result of the report, the committee passed a motion asking the province to update the Motor Vehicle Act to allow micro-mobility devices, as well as electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters, "to operate in a safe manner in designated bike lanes and/or routes," Szpak said.

"We want to be really inclusive and we want to be safe about where can these devices go and how can we help our residents who are using them."

Collecting data

So far municipalities that have taken part in the program say there's plenty of work left to do on expansion, regulation and enforcement.

From people using e-scooters on sidewalks or paths in unsafe ways, not everyone is keen on the devices.

In a written statement, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said the pilot program "provides a measured way to work with our road safety partners, including local governments, to research, test and evaluate the safe use of diverse modes of clean, personal transportation.

A person rides an electric kick scooter in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, February 22, 2023.
A person rides an electric kick scooter in Vancouver, British Columbia on Thursday, February 22, 2023.

A person rides an e-scooter in Vancouver. Municipalities that have taken part in the province's pilot program say there's plenty of work left to do on expanding, regulating and enforcing rules around the use of e-scooters. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"The second phase of the pilot enables the collection of additional health and safety data and will help determine if and how e-scooters should be permanently authorized for general use," the ministry said.

'Not far different from a regular bicycle'

Nonetheless, for some, waiting for the province to change its laws is too much to ask in the face of the overwhelming benefits micro-mobility devices have to offer.

Alicia Besler, co-owner of Victoria's Ride the Glide E-bikes, says the store makes the law clear to all prospective customers. Even so, she still manages to sell about a dozen e-scooters per week.

"In the last few years, definitely the scooters have really spiked in popularity," Besler told CBC News.

People enjoy e-scooters for short commutes, she says, thereby avoiding traffic and paying for parking. She says the e-scooters' size and portability makes them easy to slip under a desk rather than risk locking them up outside.

Alicia Besler, co-owner of Ride the Glide E-Bikes in Victoria, says electric kick scooters have exploded in popularity.
Alicia Besler, co-owner of Ride the Glide E-Bikes in Victoria, says electric kick scooters have exploded in popularity.

Alicia Besler, co-owner of Ride the Glide E-Bikes in Victoria, says electric kick scooters have exploded in popularity. (Submitted by Alicia Besler)

Besler says although some people aren't comfortable "colouring outside the lines of the law," many of her customers are already aware that the e-scooters and e-unicycles she sells aren't legal on the road.

"There's a lot of people that recognize that there's a really safe way that the electric scooters can be used," she said.

"And they're really not far different from a regular bicycle or an electric bicycle or skateboards or regular kick scooters."