Kelly Goldbeck sells electric bikes and e-scooters to a wide demographic of Victoria residents: His customers include seniors and students, and people with mobility issues. The region’s expanding network of paths, trails and protected bike lanes is enticing commuters to get out of their cars and choose alternate means of transportation.
But the increasing popularity of electric-assisted transportation is largely unregulated in British Columbia, and conflict and confusion is growing in the absence of clear rules.
“A lot of my scooter customers get yelled at for using the bike lanes,” he said.
“There is a need for learning and education," said Mr. Goldbeck, who opened Kgeez Cycle in Victoria six years ago.
On Tuesday, B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena introduced legislation that aims to clear the way for new mobility technologies, including e-scooters, electric unicycles and hoverboards.
The proposed amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act will clarify how – and where – emerging personal transportation devices are to be used. It will allow pilot projects in communities to evaluate new types of vehicles, or to test new approaches to licensing, driver training or enforcement mechanisms.
Because they are not regulated, the provincial government has no idea how many electric-powered personal transportation devices are already in use in B.C., but under existing law, they are not allowed on roads or sidewalks.
B.C. is behind on finding a place for these low-carbon, low-cost mobility devices. Nova Scotia and Ontario have run pilot projects for Segways. A handful of Canadian cities launched e-scooter pilot projects earlier this year. Basic rules, such as where riders are allowed to scoot, vary from city to city. In Edmonton, for example, scooters are allowed on streets with speed limits up to 50 kilometres an hour, but not sidewalks; in Calgary, sidewalks are in and roads are out.
“There is a lot of eagerness in some communities already,” Ms. Trevena told reporters Tuesday. The Kelowna, Victoria and Metro Vancouver governments have asked for changes. “They want to see these coming to their communities, but this will allow us to have pilot projects to see how they work best in a community: Whether they should be on the road, or on the bike path, or on the sidewalk, and how best to make sure they are being operated safely.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps welcomed the proposed legislation, saying her city has been pushing for regulation that would allow companies to set up shop to rent electric scooters. The mayor said there is growing interest in new, low-cost mobility options, but growth is limited by an outdated Motor Vehicle Act that deems e-scooters illegal.
While waiting for provincial law to catch up, city hall will unveil its own strategy, called Go Victoria, in November to encourage new transportation options.
“Go Victoria aims to have, by 2030, 80 per cent of people moving around the city by walking, cycling or public transport,” Ms. Helps said.
“I’m so happy the province is making these changes," she said. “This is the direction that mobility is going; people want more low-carbon options.”
The province already regulates some transportation devices such as mobility scooters and electric-assist bicycles. The new regulations are meant to find a place for an array of existing devices, such as Segways and electric skateboards, and new technology that does not yet exist.
Mr. Goldbeck said clarity around the rules would be welcome. He knows some e-bike riders who have been ticketed by the RCMP for riding without insurance – yet the government-owned agency, the Insurance Corporation of B.C., won’t sell motor-vehicle insurance for e-bikes.
He added that users of these new devices should expect new rights to come with responsibilities. He suggested electric-assist scooters could be regulated with licences and some liability insurance. But in the interim, Mr. Goldbeck says users should pop on a helmet, and “ride them like a bicycle.”