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.

Photo credit: 06.Thursday.WDC.9August2018 by Elvert Barnes. Licensed with changes (cropped) under ShareAlike 2.0.

Comments

  1. Yup – we ought to get those practical short commute / last mile vehicles licensed ASAP !!

    e-bikes are now more and more widely used in Vancouver, even rented by bike rental places for tourists, and frequently seen on seawall. And they are actually illegal still on sea wall ?

    On my recent trip I also saw several e-scooters albeit not that many. They too are illegal? Why ?

    We ought to treat e-skateboards, e-scooters just like bikes, ie allowed where bikes are allowed. You see them a lot at UBC where I live, but is this “private property” ? Or public?

    Indeed an update is urgently required, but looking at the Uber fiasco and ten year delay to regulate Uber maybe by 2030 we allow e-scooters legally? or 2025 even ?

    I thought we now have a public transit friendly, green coalition in power – and even they can’t get those vehicles legally on the road in short order ?

    I used e-scooters on my last trip to Texas in Austin, and I loved them, although them clogging sidewalk space and being strewn everywhere needs some tending regulating too .. (ditto the same problem I understand in Tel Aviv .. but maybe Gord can elaborate here how they regulate them)

    1. When I thought of you zipping around Austin on your e-scooter, this old 60’s tune came to mind.

  2. I wouldn’t call not having Uber a fiasco. It is a money loser heavily subsidized by investors and to some extent by drivers, and thus competes unfairly with other modes of transportation, and maybe that would be fine but in practise it wreaks havoc. From a recent study: “Between 2010 and 2016 traffic congestion in San Francisco increased by about 60 percent — and Uber and Lyft are responsible for more than half of that increase”

    All those riders came from somewhere, and transit ridership is not coincidentally down almost everywhere in North America, but going up and up in Vancouver. If people want to use an alternate mode of transport, that’s their choice, but with Uber’s subsidy, transportation planning gets skewed. Maybe that would be fine too, if it were sustainable. But the investors subsidy will run out one day, and users will have to pay what uber is really worth, so most of them will go back to transit and other modes, Uber will just be another taxi company, or go out of business … but transit will have been planned for a smaller ridership and then have to catch up. Meanwhile we have a decade or 2 with traffic getting unbearably worse.

    That’s not to say everything is perfect the way the taxi business model functions, far from it. The taxi industry can learn a lot from some of the innovations of ride sharing but they can’t dip into a giant pool of money to cut their fares in half. Driving people around for money — that’s the taxi and limo industry. We have zones where they can wait for fares, rules, special licenses and insurance, a whole infrastructure that Uber torpedoes as if those laws never existed. That they were able to wander in and bypass the whole taxi business and laws and almost every city in the world is unbelievable. Imagine I just bought a 737, put an ad in craigslist for “flights to I-5 somewhere near Seattle, cheap” and then rolled it on to highway 1 at Willingdon at 3am for a runway (*not all logistics have been worked out in this analogy). How long before Transport Canada and FAA shut that idea down?

    I remember the roller blade craze, and even special rollerblade lanes being installed in Stanley Park. That peaked and mostly went away. However, I think personal E-mobility will be here to stay, and it has the potential to significantly reduce car dependence even more than just cycling, given less sweat and greater range and ability to climb hills. Short term we’ll have to adapt to having e-mobility on bike lanes, but longer term, unfortunately we are in for a fight to take more space away from cars. In the insane bike lane wars of the past and future e-mobility lane wars, drivers should remember that taking cars off the road by making alternative modes safer and easier means more room for those that must drive or prefer to drive, so it’s a win- win. Recall that traffic in to the downtown peninsula peaked in the 1960s.

    1. I agree. Uber and Lyft are engaged in transportation dumping, running a money-losing service to drive out competition. This is the problem that needs to be addressed. The same applies to scooter-sharing services (that’s what I get out of Chris Keam’s comment about average scooter life of one month). We can’t afford to build our cities around services that won’t last. If a private service can’t be delivered sustainably (i.e., profitably), it shouldn’t be part of the mix.

    2. With road pricing I don’t see any subsidies for Uber or Lyft. The only money gone missing is the insane plate fees that cities now charge a new cab – but that too could be recouped with a per ride or per km fee. Empty seats in cars are unused resources we could tap into.

      Why are e-bikes illegal on seawall ? Why are e-scooters not treated like bikes ?

      The transportation nanny state in BC is insane and needs to be deregulated ASAP. Where are the congestion charges, road tolls or bridge fees in the “green” city and now in charge provincial government ?

  3. “Why are e-scooters not treated like bikes ?”

    See how far you can ride no hands on an e-scooter. You will get your answer. They are not as useful, stable, or long-lasting as bikes.
    Really nothing more than a distraction from real solutions and a pile of e-waste waiting to happen.

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