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This article was published 30/1/2019 (353 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The latest craze to hit urban streets across North America is poised to roll into Winnipeg, and Coun. Matt Allard wants to be prepared.
"We want to be ready for electric scooters because this is happening across North America," Allard said. "They’re coming, so let’s get it right."
The scooter craze that swept up young people almost 20 years ago has gone high-tech. Several companies, including Lime, Bird, Skip and Spin, have put thousands of electric scooters on the streets in major cities around the world. Even car-hailing pioneers Uber and Lyft have e-scooter operations.
"There have been problems in other cities and I see this as an opportunity to put the rules in place before the industry gets here," Allard told the Free Press.
Allard, chairman of council's public works committee, has authored a motion for Tuesday’s committee meeting. It directs city administration to prepare a report in 180 days about bylaw changes to facilitate dockless electric scooter and electric bike-sharing.
While billions of dollars are being invested in e-scooter and e-bike ventures across the globe, the headlines are dominated by the nuisance the scooter industry is creating for many municipalities. They’ve become so common in many downtown neighbourhoods that they’re considered litter. People who dislike them have thrown them into garbage bins, rivers and lakes; collecting them in piles and setting them on fire.
"We don’t want to see that happening in Winnipeg, so we need to get the rules in place," Allard said, adding a representative from Lime has approached him.
The introduction of dockless electric bikes and scooters into Winnipeg is inevitable, said Anders Swanson, CEO of the Winnipeg Trails Association, adding that developing policies to regulate them should be a simple process for city hall.
"Any new technology comes with questions but the era of electric bicycles is here already," Swanson said. "Electric bicycles have become extremely popular around the world and I’ve seen electric scooters in Austin and hundreds of people using them. Anything that gets people out and active is a really good idea."
Dockless electric bikes and electric scooters are rented via a smartphone app, which allows the renter to locate the nearest bike or scooter, unlock the device, then lock it when the ride has ended.
The first authorized use of dockless electric scooters in Canada began in in October at the University of Waterloo. It’s a pilot program between Lime, the City of Waterloo and the university. The scooters are restricted to a 6 1/2-kilometre set of trails linking the Waterloo campus with its nearby technology park.
News reports indicated the pilot, which was suspended for the winter but will resume in spring and end in August, will be used by the city to determine if and where it can be expanded.
Chris Schafer, Lime’s representative in Canada, said the company wants to work with municipalities to put rules in place that deal with the number of scooters and bikes that can be deployed, and where they can be parked.
"This is a phenomenon that is happening globally and in Canada. It’s a good time for Winnipeg to take a look at it," Schafer said. "This is another option for active transportation."
In October, Calgary gave Lime the go-ahead to operate a fleet of 375 rental electric bikes for a two-year trial period. A second operator will put its fleet into operation this spring.
Schafer said administrations in Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Windsor, Ont., are studying how dockless electric scooters can be put in place.
This month, Edmonton instructed its administration to have dockless electric bikes and electric scooters operate on city parkland by June. Council is asking the Alberta government to allow electric scooters on its active transportation network.
Schafer said electric scooters are designed for short trips, as an alternative to a private car or taxi.
Lime charges $1 to "unlock" the electric bikes and scooters and 30 cents per minute.
"They’re designed to be the first-kilometre, last-kilometre mode of transportation, to get you in an around the city," Schafer said. "You’re not taking a scooter from Winnipeg to Brandon."
The bikes are powered by swappable batteries, which are replaced as needed by independent contractors, known as "juicers," or local Lime staff, Schafer said. The electric scooters are charged overnight, he said, collected either by local Lime teams or juicers, who are responsible for placing them back onto the street the following morning.
Ideally, electric scooters would be allowed on all shared active transportation networks such as roadway bike lanes and dedicated AT path networks, Schafer said.
"Electric bikes and scooters tick all the sustainable boxes for cities. It’s not a car, it’s shared and people can access it when and where they need it," Schafer said.
Allard believes minimal change is required to accommodate electric bike sharing since e-bikes are permitted on city streets.
But scooters — whether manually driven or the electric variety — are not permitted on Manitoba roadways and will require changes to the Highway Traffic Act and city bylaws.
Allard said he wants the administration to consider how the e-scooter and e-bike businesses can be regulated and where scooters and bikes can be parked while waiting for customers to use them.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.