Ottawa

Lime eager to roll out e-scooters in Ottawa

Ottawa city councillors are being lobbied to allow shareable electric scooters in the capital, but provincial road rules are foggy on whether or not they're allowed.

Shareable, dockless scooters available in cities across U.S., Europe

Lime's e-scooters, like this one seen in San Francisco, Calif., in April 2018, are available in cities around the world. The company would like to bring the shareable scooters to Ottawa. (Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images)

Ottawa city councillors are being lobbied to allow shareable electric scooters in the capital, but provincial road rules are foggy on whether or not they're allowed.

San Francisco-based Lime has its scooters in cities across Europe, Australia and North America, including a pilot project in Waterloo, Ont.

Similar to the VeloGo bikes already available in Ottawa, users download an app to find and unlock the dockless, battery-powered scooters, and buy credits to pay for their rides. In North America, they cost $1 to start and 15 cents per minute thereafter.

Lime's senior director of strategic development, Chris Schafer, visited Ottawa this week to sell councillors on the scooters, and several tweeted videos of themselves zipping through the corridors of City Hall on the machines.

In his former role as the public policy lead for Uber Canada, Schafer worked to bring app-based ridehailing to the capital.

"Electric scooters and the shared aspect of them tie really well into transportation plans," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"Cities are talking about green options for transportation. Our scooters are electric. Cities are talking about more active modes of transportation, getting more people out of their personal automobile [in ways] that don't add to traffic congestion."

Uber has invested in Lime and other e-scooter companies.

It's billed as a cheap green way to zip around US cities and now electric scooter start-ups want to find a way onto the streets of Canada. We check in on the controversy in the US and get the pitch from a company that's in town to meet councillors. 12:32

But before the scooters can come to Ottawa, there may be a few roadblocks.

Ontario's Highway Traffic Act doesn't specifically mention the kind of electric scooter Lime would like to bring here. E-bikes, which more closely resemble mopeds, are not classified as motorized vehicles, but may use public roads provided they don't exceed a speed of 32 km/h.

Municipalities have the power to prohibit where e-bikes can travel, however, including "roads, paths, trails and other property under their jurisdiction." (Waterloo's e-scooters are restricted to a network of private paths between two university campuses.)

As well, residents of some cities where the scooters are available have complained about them being left blocking sidewalks and doorways.

"I take a bit of an issue with that characterization," Schafer said. "[In Ottawa] the bikeshare model used to be docked, [and now] they've moved to dockless … and it's not chaos on the streets."

Schafer said Lime users now must submit a photo of the scooter once they're done using it. The company collects the scooters for recharging or repair.

"I think in some contexts [e-scooters] might be workable," said Coun. Stephen Blais, chair of the city's transportation committee. "Like everything, the devil is always in the details. The first detail is the province has to say they're comfortable having these on the road."

Coun. Stephen Blais says electric scooters likely won't be introduced in Ottawa until the provincial government allows them to be used on the road. 0:42

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, Kate Porter

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