Says one provider: “The four biggest provinces are on the precipice of moving forward. It’s all very optimistic and exciting”
In the past 12 months, from Edmonton to Montreal, urban commuters have had the opportunity to experiment with a new micro-mobility option in Canada: shared e-scooters. Soon, those experiments could be replaced by fixed programs and installations.
This past summer, Waterloo, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna and Toronto all hosted dockless e-scooter pilot programs spearheaded by a handful of micro-mobility leaders.
The results were, by provider accounts, overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve got a car culture in North America. We’ve got a lot of sprawl,” says Lime’s senior director of strategic development, Chris Schafer. Canadians embracing e-scooters would be an endorsement of his company’s vision “to move toward people-centric cities and streets, [and] faster, more affordable, safe transportation.”
Canada has held back
Where other countries around the world have embraced shared e-scooters in the last two years, leveraging them effectively in tourist hot spots, Canada has held back.
In part it’s because shared e-scooters exist in a grey area when it comes to Canadian legislation around motorized transportation vehicles.
“The province really is the body that approves scooters on the whole and the city determines the basic details,” says Bird Canada CEO Stewart Lyons.
Some provincial governments, particularly Alberta and Quebec, have amended legislation to include regulation for shared e-scooters, while others, including Ontario and B.C., changes are still in the works.
“You have the four biggest provinces that are on the precipice of moving forward or have already moved forward, so that’s all very optimistic and exciting,” says Schafer.
“The cities are really initiating these conversations. I think a lot of this was driven because cities deal with the issues of traffic congestion and they deal with the issues of greenhouse gases related to that congestion every day.”
Shared e-scooter sites
Waterloo, Ont., was the first community in Canada to host a shared e-scooter pilot that started in 2018 and ran through last summer. It spanned a private trail between the David Johnston Technology Park and the University of Waterloo.
Lime, the first shared e-scooter operator in Canada, was the provider.
In B.C., Kelowna put its own spin on Waterloo’s model this summer, with shared e-scooters from several different providers running along the Okanagan Rail Trail.
Alberta, being the first province off the mark with its regulatory changes, allowed Calgary and Edmonton to host the two largest public roll outs of shared e-scooters in Canada.
“They have huge benefits for cities and I think the policies should reflect that”Stewart Lyons, Bird Canada CEO
In September a section of private property in Toronto’s Distillery District neighbourhood was the site of a short two week e-scooter pilot run by Bird Canada.
In Montreal shared e-scooters began ferrying commuters around the city in August. That city’s program is regulated under some of the strictest rules in the world, requiring scooters be parked in designated spots around the city and users to wear helmets and take an online safety course.
The implications for high-usage shared e-scooters in cities can not be overstated, especially when it comes to reducing urban road congestion and pollution.
Calgary was the longest-running pilot on public streets and yielded the most data, the nature of which left Bird Canada “pleasantly surprised and actually really excited by.”
“Calgary [was] over 600,000 rides in two and a half months, which is crazy. The population of the city is only 1.3 million people,” says Lyons.
“Thirty per cent of riders say they replaced their car trip with a scooter trip. If that’s 200,000 saved car trips over the summer in Calgary that’s huge, that’s material, that’s meaningful.”
The final tally of Calgary rides from both Bird and Lime e-scooters, as of the pilots’ winter hiatus effective Oct. 31, was over 750,000.
The results are just as encouraging in other jurisdictions.
The Kelowna pilot is restricted to a 12-kilometre length of trail, but city numbers from August showed over 5,000 rides after less than a month of operation.
In Montreal, even with its added layers of regulations, the number of rides is averaging 1,500 per day.
With the initial pilot steps now completed in several private and public settings, the future of shared e-scooter programs in Canada is in the hands of regulators.
After the Toronto shared e-scooter pilot wrapped, City Council passed an interim motion to stop providers launching e-scooter programs on public property.
The motion recommends, in part, “City Council prohibit the use of e-scooters on City sidewalks and pedestrian ways, prohibit any person from parking, storing, standing or leaving an e-scooter on any street, sidewalk and pedestrian way.”
But it doesn’t mean e-scooters will never be allowed in Toronto.
Council committees are consulting on when and how future programs could run, pending provincial regulatory change.
Ontario just completed its consultation phase of the proposed regulatory review.
Over in B.C., a third reading of its proposed legislative changes has been held and the province has set December of this year as its deadline.
Hopes for spring 2020
Lyons and Schafer are hopeful that come spring 2020 the green light will be given from both those provincial governments to launch programs.
If all goes well it won’t just be Canada’s biggest cities where commuters get to zoom around.
Bird is looking to expand into Mississauga and Brampton in the Greater Toronto Area, pending municipal approval, while Lime points to Victoria, Kelowna, Ottawa and Hamilton where city councils have already taken steps to get rules in place for a micro-mobility revolution.
“People love scooters. That kind of goes without saying now,” says Lyons. “Without a doubt people use scooters in large number and like them.”