British Columbia·Analysis

E-vehicles emerging fast and furious but laws aren't keeping up

With record sales of scooters, motorized skateboard and electric bikes, how should they be allowed on B.C.'s roads, bike lanes and pathways?

‘As these things increase there will be an element of chaos. It’s going to be mayhem,' says lawyer

If an e-vehicle has no pedals the Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) defines it as a miniature “motor vehicle” that must be licensed, with a few exceptions for seniors and disabled drivers. (Shutterstock / dantess)

A glut of new, motorized people movers, from scooters to skateboards to electric bikes, are hitting streets and sidewalks, but so far laws aren't keeping pace according to those flocking to the new machines.

"The technology is constantly changing and the law is much slower to change," said Sgt. Lorne Lecker of the RCMP's Deas Island Traffic Services.

Scooting past the law

5 years ago
Duration 0:10
A one-wheel electric scooter whips by on a Vancouver sidewalk, despite rules against it

He says officers can ticket e-riders based on a 2012 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that basically defines anything without muscle-powered pedals as a "motor vehicle."

Lecker says the concern is that the small, hard-to-see devices move fast and can jump curbs.

"They are very hard for drivers to see. They are also travelling at a much higher rate of speed than you expect them to be," said Lecker. "It's visibility. It's speed. It's power. With zero protection around you."

Daniel Dahlberg says he recently found out about current rules governing e-riders the hard way.

Daniel Dahlberg plans to fight the $598 ticket he got for riding his electric skateboard on a Kitsilano road. (David Horemans/CBC)

The 25-year-old was on his new motorized skateboard when he was pulled over in Kitsilano and given a $598 ticket for having no insurance and driving the machine on the road.

Most of these new e-rides are also banned on city sidewalks, in bike lanes and on public transit meaning riders who opt to commute, or take a spin, using a segway or hoverboard, risk nasty fines.

How to license an e-bike?

The Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) defines these pedal-less devices as miniature "motor vehicles" that must be licensed, with a few exceptions for seniors and disabled drivers.

But there's a catch.

This new type of vehicle can't be insured because they don't "meet the applicable provincial standards" to be registered, licensed or insured according to ICBC.

The judge in the Supreme Court ruling said the province should review regulations around electric bikes, many of which do have pedals, which keep riders from being fined

But now there are other devices — like hoverboards — that weren't even thought of at the time of the 2012 ruling.

Electronic bikes are marketed as freedom to people who perhaps can't afford a car, insurance or both a vehicle and a roof over their head in Vancouver. (eProdigy Bikes)


Part of the problem is what lawyer David Hay describes as B.C's, "archaic" Motor Vehicle Act.

'As [erides] increase there will be an element of chaos. It’s going to be mayhem,' says David Hay, a lawyer who is spearheading the Road Safety Reform Group and fighting to keep bike paths for pedal-powered machines. (David Hay)

In 2002 the act was amended to include motor-assisted cycles, but a lot has changed since then, he says.

"Now we get people going 70-kilometres per hour on one of these devices in a bike lane. So there's a lot of tension on bike paths. It's kind of unsettling," said Hay.

He is spearheading the Road Safety Reform Group which wants bike paths saved for people-powered devices only.

Melody Chan and her husband David out with their toddler, Lumin. E-biking is a family business for Chan, whose father designed a bike motor. (Melody Chan/eProdigy)

Riders of power-assisted bicycles say they are opting for the mini-electric devices which offer a cheaper, greener commute.

But Hay questions the safety of allowing them en masse.

"A lot of people in Vancouver don't have money to buy a car. As these things increase there will be an element of chaos. It's going to be mayhem."

Worth the risk

But it seems there are many willing to dive into that mayhem.

Sales of e-bikes hit 35 million in 2016, and local sellers claim 100 to 500 per cent growth, according to Electric Bikes World Reports.

Fiona Walsh started commuting on an electronic bike after seeing them in action in China in 2009. Now she's retired and graduating to an e-cargo bike. (Fiona Walsh)

Fiona Walsh got hooked on e-biking after a trip to China, where she saw commuters using the cycles, laden with cargo.

"I was sold. I thought that is the answer. I'd been playing [in] traffic for a lot of years," said the now-retired teacher who commuted between North Vancouver and Burnaby.

She and other e-bikers say wider bike lanes and updated laws are needed to encourage the pollution-free cycles and other e-vehicles.

"Right now there is a lot of confusion, and if we want to go green in the future and try to encourage people to get out of gas-guzzling vehicles, these laws should be a little bit more lenient," said Melody Chan of Reckless Bikes in Vancouver.

So as city bike paths and roadways fill up with the latest electronic vehicles Chan and others hope the law eventually catches up — and not just to issue tickets.

For Melody Chan e-bikes are part of the everyday commute and outings with her husband Dave and daughter Lumin. (Melody Chan/EProdigy)


Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist.


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