Kick scooters: they’re not just for kids anymore. Aside from electric cars and driverless buses, they’re the biggest trend going in mobility. Just ask Ford – the automaker recently spent a reported U.S. $200 million to acquire San Francisco-based Spin, which rents out electric scooters.
The City of Waterloo, Ont., earlier this month announced a pilot project in conjunction with San Francisco-based startup Lime that will see a hundred sharable electric kick scooters deployed around the University of Waterloo.
As with existing shared bicycle services found in many cities, users will be able to rent the scooters through a smartphone app. The scooters have motors that take over once kick-started and are dock-less, meaning they can be parked and left wherever users like upon trip completion.
If proponents of micromobility have their way, these e-scooters will soon proliferate in Canadian cities the same way they now do in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. And they will likely be used by adults.
“This sort of thing would serve a lot of people’s needs in an urban centre,” says Josipa Petrunic, executive director of the Toronto-based Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium.
“There’s a lot of people in their thirties, forties, fifties and sixties who are looking to be moderately more active without necessarily hiking to work every day or cycling 40 kilometres. There could be a much broader appeal.”
The Waterloo pilot project is scheduled to run till the end of November, then break for the winter and resume in the spring. The Lime-S scooters, which can go up to 24 kilometres an hour, cost $1 to unlock and then 15 cents per minute to ride.
They won’t initially be allowed onto streets, however, since they don’t qualify as vehicles under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. Instead, they’ll be relegated to private roads and trails around the university.
The city plans to use the pilot project to gain an understanding of how commuters might use electric scooters and what effects they might have on urban mobility.
Officials believe they could supplement the new light-rail transit system opening in Waterloo next year. If all goes well, city council would lobby the Ontario government to amend regulations that would then allow scooters onto roads and bike paths.
“That could be one of the goals. You get to the LRT stop, so how do you get to work [from there]?” Ryan Mounsey says. “This is a much bigger story than just a pilot, this is about a bigger vision of how do you move people around in your community.”
Lime itself has seen explosive growth since beginning its first bike-share program in Greensboro, N.C., in 2017, with electric scooters launching in February. The company now operates in more than 100 markets and has racked up 11.5 million rides, most of which have been on scooters.
Lime has attracted US$467 million in funding from the likes of Uber and Alphabet, which has spurred competition from a number of players including Bird and Spin.
Car makers are getting on board the scooter craze too, with a number working on similar micromobility options. Audi introduced a concept car in 2016 that featured an electric scooter that could be folded and stored in a rear compartment of the vehicle. Ford unveiled a circular “hoverboard” the same year.
“They’re seeing the writing on the wall – not just the shared economy, but a reduction in personal car ownership,” Petrunic says. “The need to move into the space of alternative mobility modes that don’t look like classic four-wheeled cars, it’s part of the larger trend.”
The trend has stirred controversy, too, with pedestrians in several cities complaining about users carelessly discarding scooters on sidewalks. In response, Lime is working on a number of measures to encourage proper parking behaviour, including an Uber-like rating system that could reward users who take the time to park properly.
The company also employs people in each city to gather scooters for recharging, but also to properly park those that have been discarded.
“There are certainly hiccups and we have to manage those hiccups,” says Nico Probst, manager of midwest strategic development for Lime. “We have to train new user behaviour as a result of that.”
The company, which is eyeing other Canadian cities for expansion, believes scooters can help alleviate urban congestion by encouraging commuters to take public transit and then use micro-mobility options for the so-called last mile of their respective journeys.
“We don’t want this to be a novelty, we want it to be a habitual option,” Probst says. “We see micro-mobility lanes as the future in many cities. For too long, we’ve developed our cities as car-only.”