Vancouver already has a well-established, city-supported bike share program, but it has yet to take on an e-scooter share service like many other major North American cities.
In a motion to be deliberated by Vancouver City Council next week, councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung wants the municipal government to accelerate the launch of an electric scooter and electric bicycle share program to help address the short-term transportation needs during the health crisis and recovery period, and meet the city’s long-term sustainability goals.
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The provincial government opened the possibility of e-scooter share pilot programs in January, when it changed the Motor Vehicle Act and invited municipal governments to submit their proposals to the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Kirby-Yung says the municipal government previously indicated its interest to the provincial government on launching a pilot project for a private operator to launch an electric scooter share program, but if the original timeline were to be followed Vancouver would not have electric scooters on the road until Summer 2021 or 2022.
But the provincial government has indicated to the city that this can be accelerated for launch in October or November 2020, if city council provides direction no later than July and passes a bylaw by early this fall. City council’s last meeting before the summer break is July 29, and its first regular meeting is scheduled for September 15.
If the motion is approved, city staff will be directed to work with the provincial government to proceed with an electric scooter and electric bike share program as soon as possible. These “micro-mobility devices” will be permitted on protected bike lanes and local streets with 30 km/hr speed limits.
Kirby-Yung says such new mobility sharing services will complement Mobi bike share and the city’s pandemic response measure of 50 km of slow streets, and the recently approved direction for city staff to explore reallocating at least 11% of Vancouver’s road spaces — about 220 km of 2,000 km of roads — for “people-friendly public spaces.”
“Participation in a pilot will provide the chance to leverage the City’s road reallocation strategy as well as slow streets implementation, provide additional street usage experience, as well as enable British Columbia’s largest city to provide valuable input into shaping the Provincial government’s legislative response to new mobility technologies (including factors such as speed limits and where devices can operate),” Kirby-Yung wrote in her motion.
“In terms of contributing to green transportation modes, more people are shown to ride shared e-scooters than ride shared bikes. However, both are instrumental in a robust micro-mobility system as reducing the number of shared modes available to people limits the number of people willing to get out of their cars thus working against sustainable mode share targets.”
Other cities such as London, UK have expedited their electric scooter pilot programs by a full year to June 2020 in response to the changing transportation needs during the pandemic.
In Calgary, where an electric scooter sharing service was launched last year, the devices have seen tripled use during the COVID-19 recovery period compared to normalcy. The Calgary pilot program generated 750,000 electric scooter trips over a three-month period, with every three electric scooter trips replacing one car trip, and over 50% of trips ending in a retail district.
A similar recent pilot program in Portland found that 34% of riders replaced car use with their last electric scooter trip, and the impact was greater for visitors and tourists, with nearly half reporting replacing car use on their last trip with an electric scooter.
Last year, Kelowna became the first city in BC to launch a pilot program with electric scooters, by partnering with several mobility sharing service companies. But as this pilot was implemented before changes to the Motor Vehicle Act, the electric scooters were only permitted along the Okanagan Rail Trail — a 12-km-long, citywide pathway from the airport and UBC Okanagan campus to downtown Kelowna and the Okanagan Lake waterfront.
The motion also highlights to address the concerns about shared electric scooters left on sidewalks and roadways, blocking pedestrians and parking spaces. This has become a problem in cities where electric scooter share services are well-established.