'Too fast for a sidewalk but too slow for the road': E-scooters face bumpy roads during pilot project

Lime e-scooters are pictured during a media preview of the ride share program that launched in Richmond, B.C. in 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Lime e-scooters are pictured during a media preview of the ride share program that launched in Richmond, B.C. in 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

If there's one thing B.C. municipalities taking part in a program temporarily legalizing e-scooters seem to agree on, it's that there's plenty of work left to go on expansion, regulation and enforcement.

"I don't think there's really a city in the world that's ready for it right now, but what we're trying to do is look to the future and try to be more ready," said North Vancouver City councillor Tony Valente.

North Vancouver is one of 12 municipalities participating in the pilot, which launched in 2021 to help the province learn and study new forms of transportation.

Since then, the city has amended its bylaws to allow e-scooters on most roads — so long as they stay within the legal limit — along with mobility lanes and paved multi-use highways.

But they've also watched as electric scooters have sometimes scooted on sidewalks, which creates safety issues.

"That's not part of the pilot and not something that is acceptable," said Valente.

"We're certainly in the middle of a transition … I've had discussions with people on the sidewalk saying, 'Why are you guys allowing this?' And I have to explain to them, you know, we're not."

Vancouver public program coming next year?

Of the Lower Mainland municipalities taking part in the pilot, only Richmond has a public e-scooter program in place through the company Lime, but Vancouver is hoping to select a contractor by the end of 2023.

"With a shared e-scooter service, from a safety perspective, you can control and set maximum speeds," said Vancouver councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung, who has long advocated the city create a public option.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"From an accessibility perspective and from an equity point of view, scooters are not inexpensive. So the ability to be able to try one out, have a ride for a couple of dollars … is really important."

Kirby-Yung has also heard concerns people using e-scooters on sidewalks or pedestrian paths in unsafe manners, and worries that not having a public option before 2024 is a "lost opportunity" for gathering more data on the people and places where e-scooters could be most useful.

"It's all about choice and giving people options that they're comfortable with," she said.

An element of fun

Karly Nygaard-Petersen, a doctoral student at Royal Roads University whose thesis is on e-scooters, says B.C. has lagged behind many other North American jurisdictions in establishing a framework for their use.

"I think the biggest thing around [catching up] is safety, especially for cities. Investment in infrastructure, shared pathways, areas that allow people to safely share the road," she said.

"My participants were talking about how they felt too fast for a sidewalk but too slow for the road."

At the same time, Nygaard-Petersen encourages cities to be proactive in expanding access, because her research has, perhaps unsurprisingly, found that e-scooters prove incredibly popular once people are exposed to them.

"People reported a sense of freedom, so being able to go through their city in a way that they wouldn't [do] on foot because maybe it was too far, but a route that they wouldn't have taken in a car," she said.

"And so that discovery element, the wind in their hair, that sensory piece, that was all very fun for them."

The pilot program will continue until April 2024, at which point B.C. could make permanent changes to the Motor Vehicle Act regulating e-scooters provincewide.

Valente argues the very name of the act shows a flawed way of how the province approaches the question of mobility.

"It's called the Motor Vehicle Act. And there's proposals about calling it the Safe Streets Act," he said.

"It's really hard to argue with safety. I think that's something that everybody wants."