Residents of Kelowna and Vernon are used to seeing shared e-scooters parked helter-skelter throughout their cities but that’s not the Sparrow Scooter model being used in the South Okanagan.

“The way that the scooter program operates is a shared free floating model,” Josh Boileau, regional general manager for Sparrow Scooters told “The ones you see in Kelowna are just lying around the roads.”

Kelowna, Vernon and Richmond are taking part in a 12-city pilot program to test e-scooter rentals.

“Oliver and Osoyoos are part of the pilot program but they don't want a free floating model,” Boileau said. “The way we operate is, you can’t end a ride if you’re not in one of our nests.”

A nest is a parking station, mostly at hotels in Penticton, Oliver and Osoyoos.

Riders pick up e-scooters at those nests using apps similar to other rental programs but they keep paying until the scooters are returned to a nest and secured there.

If they just dump them on the side of the road, they will continue to be charged by the minute, thus ensuring the scooters are only left in designated locations.

A Sparrow nest.
A Sparrow nest.
Image Credit: Submitted/Sparrow Scooters

Sparrow launched in Penticton last summer with 34 scooters. They’ve got 26 on the roads so far this year with plans to ramp up to 70 to 75 this summer.

“There were hockey tournaments going on so we wanted to get out and get people mobile,” Boileau said. “A lot of people that come up for the hockey tournaments are on a bus, so in order for them to go get food or go do what they want to do they don’t have a lot of access to anything and there’s not a lot of public transit, so we wanted to get the scooters on the road.”

The pilot program allows the participating municipalities to change their bylaws to permit scooters on city streets, something that is illegal everywhere else.

Penticton isn't part of that program so it falls under the old rules. Since the Sparrow scooters are limited to 24 km/h, authorities seem OK with them being on the streets. Privately owned scooters can travel up to 40 or 50 km/h.

Oliver is part of the pilot project and has changed its bylaws. Boileau expects to have scooters on the roads there, at hotels and in parks, by next weekend, ramping up to 45 this summer. Osoyoos is also in the pilot program and it’s in the process of changing its bylaws. Boileau expects to be running there by late April or early May. The target is for 45 scooters there as well.

The scooters are “geo-fenced” to only travel in certain locations. For example, the Penticton scooters can’t go all the way to Naramata because they could run out of battery power before making it back. They’re also prevented from travelling on the Channel Parkway between Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake for safety reasons.

“Even if everything was opened up, I would not allow our scooters on Channel Parkway for a couple of reasons,” Boileau said. “People drive there at 100 to 110 km/h so it’s unsafe. And there’s no need to go down the Channel Parkway. You’ve got the walking path right across the channel from it and it’s safe.”

READ MORE: Okanagan leading the way with e-scooter use in B.C.

In the early days of the e-scooter test in Kelowna, there were lots of complaints about scooters not only being left on sidewalks but being ridden on sidewalks as well.

The nest system eliminates the parking issue.

Technology can prevent the scooters from going on sidewalks, which is the case in Kelowna. Vernon allows them on sidewalks as long as they slow down and yield to pedestrians.

The Sparrow scooters can go on sidewalks but Boileau is considering whether or not to install technology to prevent that as well.

Sparrow is owned by a Vancouver couple and only operates in the South Okanagan. After this summer, Boileau will look at expanding into other communities.

The scooters are similar to what larger companies, like Lime in Kelowna use, but Sparrow is a smaller company so more willing to go into smaller markets.

Some large companies won’t go into cities where they can’t run a few hundred scooters at a time, Boileau said.

The provincial pilot project runs through to April 2024 after which time the government may change rules so they’re allowed on city streets everywhere in B.C. or they may revert to existing bans.

Learn more about Sparrow Scooters and where to pick them up, go here.

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