An e-bike advocate says the Regional District of North Okanagan's ban on certain e-bikes discriminates against a large proportion of the population.
E-bike store owner Shelia Fraser told iNFOnews.ca the recent ban on certain types of e-bikes from parts of the Okanagan Rail Trail has prevented many seniors and others less abled from accessing the trail.
"They have really discriminated against a large portion of the Okanagan population," Fraser said. "I have an 85-year-old customer who rides an e-bike and he says they've taken away his ability to ride the bike on the Okanagan trail."
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The controversy erupted this spring when signs appeared along the trail advising trail users that Class 2 and 3 e-bikes were prohibited from the section of the rail trail under the regional district's jurisdiction. It runs from Coldstream to roughly the Crystal Waters subdivision, about five kilometres north of Oyama.
The bylaw was passed in July 2021 and replicated rules implemented by B.C. Parks in 2019. The regional district said the bylaw was introduced after it received complaints. To date, no one had been issued a $200 fine.
The bylaw outlaws Class 2 e-bikes which have a throttle as well as a pedal-assist function but allows Class 1 e-bikes which just have the pedal-assist mode.
However, Fraser said many e-bike riders need the throttle function.
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"The throttle was intended to be an assistance tool just to assist a rider from a dead stop or a fatigued rider when they are on a long haul," Fraser said. "I had a customer with a heart condition that can't pedal the whole distance of the trail yet (but) he loves to go out there with his wife and he needs his throttle to be able to do that."
Fraser owns e-bike store Pedego Oyama and says the ban hasn't affected her bottom line. The brand she sells, Pedego, allows the throttle to be disabled, making the e-bikes legal on the rail trail.
She has, however, reduced the speed limit on her rental fleet from 32 km/h to 20 km/h.
Although Fraser's not sure that putting a speed limit on the trail is the answer as it's not yet clear what the nature of the complaints were that brought about the ban.
"Why would you put up a speed limit if speed is not the issue, it's kind of the cart before the horse," she said.
Fraser is making a presentation to the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee, June 1, to lobby against the e-bike ban.
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And it appears she has the public's support behind her.
A recent online petition to allow Class 2 e-bikes on the rail trail has garnered more than 4,000 signatures.
Greater Vernon Advisory Committee chair Akbal Mund said it was "definitely" worth reviewing the bylaw and looking at consistency between the jurisdictions the rail rail runs through.
"As much as we've had vocal support from the one side of the issue we've also had many letters from people who support the ban of e-bikes on the trail," Mund said. "It's not a one-sided affair... you have to look at the use by everybody and make sure it's safe for everybody."
Fraser said the e-bike ban goes against what the rail trail is supposed to be.
"What the rail trail was meant to do was that it was to be a pathway that connected communities together... and it would be for all ages and all abilities, and by discriminating against Class 2 bikes you are discriminating against a large portion of our population and people that have more limited (ability)," she said.
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