British Columbia

Shared e-scooters in Vancouver? Learn from mistakes made in other cities, study says

New research from Simon Fraser University says Metro Vancouver can learn from the experiences of other cities that have introduced a share program for electric scooters to local streets.

Cities need to be flexible for e-scooters to work, Simon Fraser University researcher says

A new study from researchers at Simon Fraser University found that there's interest in introducing micro-mobility options in Metro Vancouver, and plenty of lessons to learn from the many other North American cities that have already allowed them. (Jason Viau/CBC)

New research from Simon Fraser University says Metro Vancouver can learn from the experiences of other cities that have introduced a share program for electric scooters to local streets.

The scooters, which some people already use to glide along streets, bike paths and sidewalks around Metro Vancouver, are a so-called micro-mobility transportation option.

But the devices, which also include electric unicycles and electric skateboards, aren't actually legal in the Lower Mainland.

"If we are seeing them on our city streets, they're currently not legal in any of the settings they're being ridden in," said Meghan Winters, an associate professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University.

Winters recently published a study on micro-mobility, examining case studies in Washington D.C., Seattle, Portland and Calgary. She also held local focus groups to hear what people in B.C. think of the vehicles.

Winters found there's local interest in legally introducing the e-scooters in a program similar to the Mobi by Shaw Go bike share, which now has 201 docking stations and 2,000 bikes.

However, changes to the Motor Vehicle Act would be needed to integrate the e-scooters with other vehicles on local roads and pathways.

Winters said tension often arises when e-scooters are used on sidewalks or left in places that obstruct accessibility, like this Lime scooter left on the road in downtown Montreal. (Kristy Snell/CBC)

Winters also said there's a learning curve for residents and municipalities in how to properly and safely use the devices.

"People don't know where they can ride these devices, where they can park the devices and where they can leave them," she said.

The study found that e-scooters work best when carefully integrated into the the existing transportation systems, and fit best within bicycle infrastructure.

Winters said tension often arises when they're used on sidewalks or left in places that obstruct accessibility.

Officials need to take a proactive approach to safety for successful e-scooter plans, including well-maintained fleets, adequate road and sidewalk space, she added.

One of the biggest takeaways from the research, according to Winters, is that cities need to begin with a pilot program and have the flexibility to make adjustments and corrections along the way, and in Metro Vancouver, planners can learn from mistakes elsewhere.

"These are in hundreds of cities across North America already," she said. "There have been surprises in all the cities."

Baby e-steps

Calgary introduced 1,500 e-scooters in 2019 as part of its already existing e-bike share system. The scooters were used for 750,000 trips in four months.

Despite the popularity, Winters' research showed that a cap of 1,000 e-scooters per operator created tension as companies wanted to be able to have bigger fleets.

Winters' report said that in Metro Vancouver, many municipalities have been prevented from moving forward with shared micro-mobility programs because of provincial regulations.

Still the province has created space for municipalities to pursue pilot projects this summer. TransLink is also involved and has issued guidelines that municipalities could follow to try out shared e-scooters.

Winters' research also said that there is concern surrounding what the introduction of micro-moblilty e-scooters will mean for bike share programs in places like Vancouver.

"There is fear that the introduction of electric devices (e-bikes or e-scooters) by other operators could impact its ridership significantly," the report said. 

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