Five years ago, shared electric scooters didn’t exist. Fast forward to 2021 and they are on track to surpass 500 million rides globally this year. Just to put this number in context, it outpaces the early growth of the ride-hail industry, founded by Uber in 2009. However, the past five years haven’t been completely ‘hiccup-free’ for the micromobility industry. Despite widespread popularity, many providers, cities and their residents have faced serious challenges with the shared e-scooter movement, the top two being general road safety and vandalism.
Understanding the key developments and players that have helped advance this sector over the past five years, can give us valuable insights on where the industry is going and how we can successfully shape it to meet the needs of both cities and riders here in Canada.
Keep reading to learn about the Canadian cities who have launched a shared e-scooter service, the cities who are considering it and why these micromobility services are so important when creating a well-rounded and reliable, transportation ecosystem. Check out other movmi articles on micromobility here.
MICROMOBILITY UPDATE 2021: SHARED E-SCOOTERS, CANADA
Despite the many ups and downs for mobility operators worldwide in 2020, this year e-bike and traditional bicycle sales are soaring, and many e-scooter operators are logging more rides than they did pre-pandemic. According to McKinsey’s global consumer survey, the use of micromobility stands to actually increase —by 9% for private micromobility and by 12% for shared micromobility—compared to pre-pandemic levels. On top of this, across the globe, hundreds of miles of new bike lanes are being created. For example, Milan, Brussels, Seattle, Montreal, New York and San Francisco have each introduced more than 20 miles of dedicated cycle paths, and Paris is in the process of investing $325 million to update its bicycle network.
To keep up with newfound micromobility demand and infrastructure, over the next few years there is going to be a massive need for more vehicles on the road and shared mobility services providers. So far, the Canadian cities that have considered, launched or released an RFP for e-scooter sharing are: Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, the North Vancouver (Metro Vancouver,) Vernon, Red Deer, Windsor, Hamilton, Ottawa and Lethbridge.
WHY SHOULD WE HAVE SHARED MICROMOBILITY SERVICES IN CANADIAN CITIES?
1. MICROMOBILITY IS AN ATTRACTIVE ALTERNATIVE TO THE PRIVATE CAR
Shared e-mobility services can potentially lead to positive impacts on transportation and the environment, such as reducing car use, car ownership, and greenhouse gas emissions. If you take Paris as an example, cars on the streets of the city remain parked 95% of the time. That’s why Paris has decided to remove 50% of parking spots. Cars are no longer the priority. In 2024, you won’t be able to drive a diesel car in Paris. In 2030, gas-powered cars will be banned. That is why some major roads in the city are now primarily focused on ‘soft mobility’.
The city took advantage of the lockdown to accelerate their mobility agenda with new bike lanes and repurposed roads. For instance, the Rue de Rivoli used to be a major road that connects the Champs-Elysées to Bastille. Now, one-third of the road is dedicated to buses and two-thirds are reserved for bikes and e-scooters. Without micromobility options being widely popular and available to residents, the city would not have been able to implement these new changes and redesign their urban planning methodology to reclaim space and drive their sustainability goals.
2. INSIGHTS TO MOBILITY PATTERNS FROM OPERATOR PROVIDED DATA
When introducing shared electric scooters into a city, a first step taken by local governments is to mandate that micromobility operators report usage and trip location data. The city-led Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) created the Mobility Data Specification (MDS) standard for exchanging data between mobility operators and cities, which has already been adopted by more than 80 cities and public agencies globally.
These analytics will help cities to track travel patterns and behaviours, improve their spatial intelligence, optimise curb management and allow the city to enforce permit conditions. Hamburg, Germany ran a pilot program last year with Wunder Mobility, based on usage data provided by the city’s four active e-scooter providers. The result was a data dashboard that generated insights into the location, number and duration of scooter rides in the city. It is already helping the authorities to manage overall fleet numbers and distribution, to identify service gaps, and to manage scooter parking more effectively.
3. POST-PANDEMIC HEALTH & SAFETY
Shared e-scooters hold the promise of being able to fill gaps in public transport routes, providing a practical and popular answer to the first-and-last-mile problem. This is particularly important in a post-pandemic landscape, for commuters who rely heavily on public transportation getting from point A to point B. Not only can shared e-scooters bridge the first and last mile gap, but they also allow riders to avoid the bigger and busier transit hubs. By simply hopping on a scooter, riders can easily make their way to the next public transit hub and avoid the more densely populated stations.
The fear of being in enclosed populated spaces is on one of the reasons traffic levels are currently high in Metro Vancouver even though many people are still working from home. Recent data from TransLink shows that crossings on three major bridges in Metro Vancouver owned by the transit authority — Golden Ears, Pattullo and Knight Street — are within 10 per cent of pre-COVID volume. And traffic volume, they warn, will most likely exceed pre-pandemic levels as confidence in taking transit recovers slowly. Is the answer to this the implementation of more shared micromobility services, such as e-scooter sharing?
In Berlin, Jelbi stations are bringing sharing services to S-Bahn and subway stations across the city. At these locations you can hire, return and charge a shared car, bicycle or e-scooter. If the public transit station is too busy, these extra options give travellers peace of mind on their daily commutes.
4. LOCAL ECONOMIC IMPACT OF E-SCOOTER SHARING SERVICES
Often e-scooter sharing services are seen as a mere convenient and affordable commuting choice within cities, with very little emphasis placed on how transportation and local economies are interrelated. A recent study proves that e-scooter usage generates considerable positive impact on the local food and beverage industry. The research covers key cities in the US viz. Atlanta, Austin. San Francisco and Washington DC with available scooter sharing services. The period compares business stats before and after the period that these scooter sharing services were made available.
With a big portion of businesses’ income coming from impulse or unplanned purchases, the availability and convenience of shared micromobility (as a means for customers to spontaneously ride to a business location or a hotspot of such shops) drives revenue.
Evidence shows strong correlation between impulse purchase driven income, especially in the ‘snack’ category (e.g. coffee and candy) and the uptick of e-scooter ridership or usage. Incremental sales attributable to e-scooter availability was found to be nearly 1.9% (snacks category).
E-SCOOTERS IN CANADIAN CITIES
CHALLENGES AND ISSUES
In cities around the world, problems with careless parking, vandalism, the risk to pedestrians from inexperienced or thoughtless riders and questions over scooters’ real lifetime environmental impact have spurred much debate. This has led to Canada becoming a slow adopter of the micromobility trend.
It’s clear that micromobility operators need to work in conjunction with cities to create successful systems and that restrictions need to be in place so that all city residents can feel safe. However, early lessons learned in cities are that inflexible rules-based regulation, and in some cases outright bans — can be counterproductive, restricting the spread of services and denying users access to the benefits available.
An example of this is Toronto. This month the city council decided to unanimously to opt out of the province’s electric scooter pilot program, maintaining the ban on this method of transportation on public streets.
The decision was made, despite poll results, conducted by Nanos, the pollster of record for The Globe and Mail, CTV News and Bloomberg News showing strong support from local residents for a 2021 pilot – 70% of Torontonians support or somewhat support a shared e-scooter pilot in the city, with only 19% in opposition. Will banning e-scooters and refusing to take part in any shared pilot programs really be beneficial to the residents of the city? Or is it a step back in the pursuit of a more sustainable and integrated transportation ecosystem?
THEFT AND VANDALISM
Other issues facing the successful launch of e-scooter sharing in Canadian cities are theft and vadalism of vehicles. Last month Bird Canada deployed around 200 e-scooters in the southwestern Ontario city, Windsor, for the first time under a pilot project. At the beginning of May, the Canadian e-scooter service was temporarily suspended due to 10% of those scooters going missing. However, despite this initial theft, General manager Alexandra Petre said, “We received a lot of positive comments, we had lots of lots of rides and many excited people saying it felt like a new city.”
The devices have GPS on board, giving the company a bird’s-eye view of their locations and allowing someone to retrieve them easily.
PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS
Another city that has introduced e-scooter sharing to its streets, is Kelowna. The service has become so popular that ridership has grown to a thousand rentals per day or more. However, alongside this surge in usage, complaints are also pouring in about the Lime scooters in downtown.
The city Active Transportation Manager Matt Worona says an enforcement blitz is coming within the next two weeks – “Things like sidewalk riding, riding inappropriately, scooters two abreast, those kind of issues we’re seeing crop up. We want to be sure that the expectations are clear for all users.”
The e-scooter rental companies are also working with the city to increase safety education, especially for new users. However, on the flip side, the local transit App has added shared scooters to allow you to plan multi-modal bus and scooter trips in Kelowna, which is very exciting step forward into integrated mobility.
E-scooter safety concerns are a universal problem for Canadian cities. Hamilton city councillors are holding off on making a decision about allowing e-scooter rental companies in the city to seek more input from groups, including those advocating for people with disabilities. City staff recommended allowing a maximum of three companies to run in Hamilton. Each one would offer between 250 to 500 e-scooters in the existing bike share service area, meaning a possible 1,500 devices hitting municipal streets. But after delegates flagged safety concerns, the city’s public works committee unanimously decided Monday that staff should do more consulting with the community.
E-SCOOTER OPERATORS PUTTING SAFETY FIRST
Canadian cities should not be deterred by these common safety concerns. Developments in e-scooter safety has shifted the way many cities across the world have treated the implementation of shared e-scooters. Companies like Superpedestrian and Tier are providing a safer, different approach. Superpedestrian puts cities first and has over 12 years of experience operating compliant fleets in the public right-of-way. They offer onboard geofences that enforce no-ride, slow-ride, and no parking zones in under 0.7 seconds. VIS monitors vehicle health in real-time and removes unsafe vehicles from operation and identifies unauthorised use, abusive movement, and impacts, and auto-reports tip-overs to our local team.
Just this year TIER, Europe’s leading e-scooter operator, partnered with micro-mobility safety app Busby to create a rapid response system for riders involved in incidents on the road. In addition to this, several other features include the Busby Flare, which allows riders to contact nearby users or repair shops in the event of needing assistance while out on the road. TIER users will also be connected to Busby’s RoadRadar feature, which sends an audible notification to nearby vehicle drivers (who use the Busby app) that a TIER rider is close to them, encouraging the driver to take extra care.
WHICH CANADIAN CITY WILL BE NEXT TO INTRODUCE SHARED E-SCOOTERS?
The B.C. government is allowing electric kick scooters on the streets of six cities, as part of a three-year pilot project to test their safety on the province’s streets. The Ministry of Transportation in a statement said that the pilot project will give the province and the selected local governments a chance to assess the safety of electronic personal transportation.
In the past month, cities in BC have shown a lot of interest and have kick-started these pilot programs. Kelowna opened the doors to e-scooter sharing companies and recently Bird Canada joined the already launched and operating Lime, Roll and Zip scooter sharing brands in the city. The City of Vernon has also invited applications for shared micromobility operations with a pilot planned to begin this year. London, Waterloo, Montreal, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Halifax, and Victoria are also cities that have publicly expressed interest in starting a new shared e-scooter pilot, some of which have also had these services in the past.
Much closer home in the Metro Vancouver region, the shared micromobility space is heating up. The North Shore just announced the launch of e-bike sharing operated by Lime, who will begin to deploy a fleet of 200 e-bikes at dozens of designated parking locations across North Vancouver over the next few weeks, and the City of Richmond is inviting applications for a shared e-scooter pilot program planned to start later this year.
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