The wave of electric micro mobility: it’s happening fast here in Canada.
From e-bikes, to e-scooters, to e-boards and segways, increasingly cities in BC and beyond are speaking out about the need to accommodate such emerging technologies, while simultaneously grappling with how to do so.
Written in 1957, BCs Provincial Motor Vehicle Act (MVA), whose initial design was to regulate motor vehicles and their drivers, has proven to be a significant barrier in the creation of a more hospitable environment for these rapidly emerging technologies and their riders.
While e-bikes are now legally able to operate on BC roads (operators must be at least 16 years of age and wearing a helmet, with electric motors capped at 500 watts) how to accommodate users who wish to use different electric technologies — such as e-scooters and e-boards — remains a big question.
Why? Current rules for what ICBC terms “low-powered vehicles” states that certain forms of low-powered vehicles, including motorized scooters and skateboards, cannot be operated on roads, or sidewalks. The reason is that the MVA classifies such modes as a type of motor vehicle, but are those that do not meet provincial safety standards required for on-road use. As a result, travelers using such modes are restricted to private property that does not have public vehicle access, or, in some municipalities, off-street trails and pathways.
For all you Vancouverites out there, the City still currently prohibits the use of low-powered vehicles along the seawall and park paths. Why? Primary reasons include reserving space for people walking and cycling, as well as minimizing the potential for user conflicts (there are already many), particularly those at risk of being caused by large groups of people (e.g. tour groups) using a form of electrified travel technology they are unfamiliar with.
In sum, if you’re looking to keep your e-scooting and boarding legal in BC, your safest bet is to remain on your own property, or to check your city’s bylaws. That, or risk facing a couple hundred dollar fine.
Now, let’s pretend all of the legal restrictions were removed in BC. Planners and decision-makers would still have to adequately plan for such users, of whom can a) disrupt slower moving travelers such as pedestrians or cyclists (using non-electric bikes), and b) face heightened physical dangers when traveling on streets with faster moving vehicles. Accordingly, even with legal restrictions removed, it is worth thinking about the types of questions planners and decision-makers would likely be faced with. Examples include:
How do we regulate people travelling on such small, yet fast devices? (e.g. where should they be able to travel, and how fast) … Do we create new space in what is likely an already constrained street section? or, do we position such users in existing spaces where a variety of users are travelling at a variety of speeds?
Do we permit them on board transit? (e.g. buses, SkyTrain)
Where do we permit them to park?
In the case of scooter shares (as well as for other mobility share programs!), it is critical that planners and decision-makers consider the extent to which what is being offered is equitable. For example, if cities are embracing (or thinking about embracing) share programs, how will these technologies be accessed and paid for? where will they be located? or, if dockless, where will they be permitted to operate and dock? In essence, who are the target users of such systems, who could be the users, and in what ways might certain users be locked out from using such systems?
Given the potential socio-economic and environmental benefits of these technologies, planners and decision-makers must think about innovative ways, particularly while the BC MVA remains unchanged, to guide and protect travelers who are (despite current restrictions), or who wish to use these modes – even if for now that means clarifying current laws by posting regulatory signage on streets and sidewalks.
Simply issuing tickets to people who are, often unknowingly, operating these technologies where they aren’t allowed is not a particularly welcomed solution for the effective protection and regulation of what is undoubtedly a growing population of travelers.
While BC has yet to amend its MVA, and off-street paths in the City of Vancouver remain off-limits, numerous opportunities exist to help move the needle on welcoming these new technologies. In part 2 of this series I will discuss these opportunities, of which include recommended changes to BCs MVA, as well as highlighting what other Canadian cities have accomplished in terms reforming provincial and municipal laws in an effort to to both welcome and regulate such technologies.