Okanagan leading the way with e-scooter use in B.C.
As B.C. heads into its third and final year of a pilot project allowing e-scooters on city streets, the Okanagan is leading the charge with 95% of the rental scooters in the province.
Twelve B.C. communities have signed on to the pilot project but only three have launched rental programs.
The 2023 season started in Kelowna in mid-February and will ramp up to 700 Lime e-scooters in the peak summer months. Vernon’s program resumed March 1 with 250 Neuron scooters. Richmond, which has a population greater than Kelowna and Vernon combined, is offering only 50 Lime scooters.
“We really just want to give our residents more options to get around and create safe infrastructure and safe routes for people to ride all sorts of means of transportation – be that regular peddle bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters or others,” Cameron Noonan, City of Kelowna transportation planner, told iNFOnews.ca “Any time that we are avoiding car trips we are reducing emissions and congestion.”
Last year, the rental program accounted for 186,000 e-scooter trips and 53,000 trips on Lime’s 300 e-bikes in Kelowna.
In Vernon, 460,000 kilometres were travelled last year, according to a Neuron news release. Of those rides, 40% replaced a car journey. Neuron said 70% of e-scooter trips resulted in purchases, adding $4.5 million to the Vernon economy.
Richmond, which has 25 e-bikes along with its 50 e-scooters, saw 46,800 rides by about 20,300 riders from March 2022 to March 2023.
The pilot program, when it was first launched in Kelowna in 2021, triggered hundreds of complaints, especially for riding and parking the scooters on sidewalks. There were 300 complaints in 2021 but after the city brought in tougher rules those dropped to 30 last year.
READ MORE: New rules cut Kelowna e-scooter program by more than half
“I’m definitely excited to see that decrease,” Noonan said. “I’m happy to see the operating companies have stepped up their game in re-parking the vehicles and making sure they’re not left in places where they’re blocking sidewalks, for instance.
“I think our education efforts with riders is also starting to take hold. I’m happy to see that these vehicles are becoming a more normal part of the every-day transportation system and are integrating well into the community.”
How long these programs last remains to be seen.
Prior to the pilot project being launched, the scooters were not allowed on city streets, even in bike lanes. They could only be used on dedicated pathways. Participating communities had to implement bylaws to allow the change.
The other nine B.C. communities participating in the pilot project – including Oliver and Osoyoos but not Kamloops or Penticton – have made those changes but not launched rental programs.
A CBC report highlighted concerns in Vancouver about e-scooters being ridden too quickly on sidewalks and too slowly on roads.
"With a shared e-scooter service, from a safety perspective, you can control and set maximum speeds," Vancouver councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung said. Vancouver is one of the cities in the pilot project.
Noonan, at the City of Kelowna, said he has no way of knowing how many privately-owned e-scooters there are in Kelowna but given the educational value of thousands of people renting e-scooters and being forced to follow the rules, the culture around not riding on sidewalks is enhanced.
“Pilot communities are required to complete annual reports as set out in the pilot project regulations,” the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in an emailed statement to iNFOnews.ca “The one-year reports from April 2022 show that scooters are popular, promote active transportation use, injury rates are low, and there are few complaints and infractions.
“The success of the pilot programs will be considered in terms of safety and supporting government’s Clean Transportation Action Plan. Government will then consider possible next steps, which could include regulatory changes, depending on the success and outcomes of the pilot.”
There is no indication in the emailed statement whether that review will be done in time for the scooter rental season in 2024. The pilot project ends in April of that year.
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