E-scooters hit city trails and streets in growing numbers and with no clear rules

·5 min read
Electric scooters have grown in popularity on Fredericton's multi-use trails in recent years with no rules governing how they can be used.  (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)
Electric scooters have grown in popularity on Fredericton's multi-use trails in recent years with no rules governing how they can be used. (Aidan Cox/CBC - image credit)

Once a rare sighting, electric kick scooters, also known as e-scooters, are becoming more common.  And their growing popularity has sparked debate over how they should be used as laws have yet to catch up to the devices.

"The bylaw back when it was drafted … never contemplated these kind of scooters or electric scooters or electric bikes, so, you know, they're they're kind of new at this point," said Coun. Bruce Grandy, referring to the city's bylaw governing parks and trails.

"There isn't anything that says you can't take them on [the trails]."

The past few years have seen Canadian jurisdictions scramble to implement new rules to govern how e-scooters should be used on their trails and streets.

Aidan Cox/CBC
Aidan Cox/CBC

It's come as rental companies now offer e-scooters for an hourly rate, as well as large retailers selling the devices anywhere from about $400 to more than $1,000.

Many of them are designed to reach speeds of about 30 km/h with the push of dial.

Lagging legislation

Fredericton's L-19 bylaw sets rules for its parklands and trails, and includes rules around the use of bicycles, such as the need to wear a helmet, ring a bell when passing pedestrians, and stay under 15 km/h when on a trail.

With no mention of e-scooters in the bylaw, however, it means the devices aren't governed by any of those rules, and their growing popularity has triggered efforts by councillors to change that.

Last month, members of the mobility committee debated possible caps on the speed and power of e-scooters before ultimately voting those down.

And at the last council meeting, councillors debated the subject again before ultimately tabling the motion for more time to consult with police, retailers and trail users, said Grandy, who's also chair of the mobility committee.

Grandy said the idea behind the amendments is to strike a balance between allowing the devices, and protecting the safety of trail users.

"I think everybody's concerned about the speed," Grandy said. "I think they're concerned about … pedestrian respect for those vehicles and those vehicle-users' respect for pedestrians that are on the trail."

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

While the city's trails are governed by bylaw, the province's Motor Vehicle Act governs the use of public streets and roads, and those rules are enforced by police.

The Fredericton Police Force did not grant an interview about how the use of e-scooters is governed on streets, but in an email, spokesperson Heather Webb said the Motor Vehicle Act does not specify anything around e-scooters as they are so new.

"This makes enforcement (speed, sidewalks vs roads) very challenging.

"Police encourage everyone to do what they feel is safest whether you are on the sidewalk or road and be mindful of people around you," she said.

Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for New Brunswick's Department of Justice and Public Safety, in an email said only scooters that are meant for road use are covered under the Motor Vehicle Act.

"E-scooters like the one you referred to do not meet the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards set out by Transport Canada," he said.

"If units do not have a compliance label, then they cannot be operated on the road."

Downey did not say whether e-scooters typically have a compliance label.

A booming rental business

Matt Nicholson was browsing Facebook last spring when he saw a video of someone getting around Fredericton on an e-scooter.

Within the same week he read inquiries on social media about where the scooters could be rented and saw an opportunity.

We are actually having kind of a hard time keeping up with the demand, even with the amount of scooters that we have - Matt Nicholson, owner of Mint Rentals

He purchased four e-scooters, and partnered with a local hotel, where he started renting them out on an hourly basis.

Less than a year later, he oversees a fleet of about 80 e-scooters with his company Mint Rentals, which operates out of three locations across the city, with plans to expand to Saint John and Moncton.

"We are actually having kind of a hard time keeping up with the demand, even with the amount of scooters that we have," Nicholson said.

"You know, we thought 50 scooters in Fredericton would be a lot, but it's really not. The very first day on Saturday that we opened was in Apri … and we were turning people away even with 80 scooters, which was just crazy to me that we were doing that. So the popularity is there."

With the increase in the number of e-scooters in Fredericton, Nicholson said he's also heard from some critics. He compares opposition to the devices to the attitude by some toward skateboards in the 1990s.

Nicholson said most of the scooters are also capped at 25 km/h, adding that staff give customers a list of trail etiquette rules and discourage them from taking the scooters on the streets and sidewalks.

"We don't want people abusing our equipment. We don't want people ruining other people's times," he said, adding he hopes the city consults him on any proposed rules.

Embracing an alternative

Whatever rules get introduced, e-scooters are likely here to stay, said André Arseneault, president of the Fredericton Trails Coalition.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

"We're supporters of having e-scooters, as well as other mobility devices on the trail, because it's important to remember that the trails are multi-use," he said.

"So they're for everybody, and they're a wonderful new technology. I think that we need to get used to them, and we need to wrap a few more behavioural rules around them, but all in all, it's the way of the future."

Arseneault said he hasn't heard of any major conflicts between e-scooter users and pedestrians, but noted some get surprised by them passing at high speed.

He thinks the only improvements needed are around etiquette and a speed limit.

"We're quite confident that most … people living in Fredericton want to do the right thing, so it's just a matter of getting out there and and more clearly spelling out a message that allows people to better understand how to behave when you're encountering other people on the trails."

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