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Dockless Lime-E bikes clog public spaces in Calgary.

Joanne elves/The Globe and Mail

Inching along Memorial Drive during rush hour, I looked over to see a family of five on the path passing me on scooters. Three kids, whose ages range from 7 to 10, grinned as they sped along in front of their parents – all relishing the wind in their hair and the freedom provided by the new e-scooters that have recently hit the streets of Calgary. But as a helicopter mom, all I saw was the carnage and ensuing brain injuries waiting to happen. Maybe the image of a broken nose also went through the mind of the next gal to pass me as her rental e-scooter vibrated over the broken asphalt of the crosswalk. She stepped off and added it to the ragtag collection of black or green e-scooters cluttering the corner. Like many major cities in the world, Calgary, of all places, has joined the dockless ride-share craze.

In late fall 2018, Calgary welcomed a dockless bike-share pilot project to test until October, 2020. Last winter, 375 Lime-E bikes clogged the snowy sidewalks and seldom moved, but by spring, some people warmed up to the concept. The pilot is capping dockless bike sharing at 10,000 bikes across the city.

Now, e-scooters offered by both Lime and Bird have been introduced. Lime has scattered 1,000, while Bird has so far dropped 500. A third company has also been approved. Each company is permitted to leave 1,000 scooters on our sidewalks. That’s 3,000 in total that will be seemingly abandoned across the city because they only have enough juice for maybe 20 kilometres. Contracted “juicers” come out in the night to recharge and maybe relocate the units.

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The ride-share scooters and bikes are supposed to be left off the path, off private land and away from doorways – not in alleyways and, ahem, out of the river. I’d like to know who is going to drag the drowned rentals from the Bow River that are tossed nightly from the Peace Bridge. Contractors paid by the piece are not going to go wading.

Here’s the funny part. The bylaws for e-scooters recently changed. According to the webpage of the City of Calgary’s transportation department, operating an e-scooter on the busiest sidewalks and bike lanes in the central business district (CBD) is okay. So buzzing up behind a cluster of pedestrians on Stephen Avenue at noon and ringing a bell to demand them to scatter is okay now? It sounds unsafe for the noon-hour crowd. And does anyone know where the CBD ends? E-scooters are tormenting people on pathways in the suburbs, too.

Here’s the not-so-funny part. Within the first two weeks of scooters on the loose, 60 patients with e-scooter-related injuries were wheeled into Calgary’s emergency rooms. And that’s no surprise. Watching scooters whiz by at Eau Claire Market with two people aboard while playing Frogger with the lunchtime crowd is the newest local entertainment. Riding tandem is against the rules, as is letting minors use them, but that doesn’t stop anyone. Who will the parents blame when their carefree, helmetless kids cartwheel into traffic?

The councillors for Calgary don’t want the pilot to fail. Councillor Druh Farrell is all for making the city more user-friendly and tweets a terse “Don’t mess this up.” And Nathan Carswell, manager of the city’s shared mobility program, says Calgary may tweak the program to address major issues.

The dockless model failed in China. Mobike, Ofo, Bluegogo and Xiaoming bikes clogged sidewalks, causing the government to enact new bylaws and haul off the units that didn’t comply. Millions of those bikes are now in rusting heaps, as are many of the companies. It appears China likes the control of the docking system better.

So, what will happen in Calgary when the honeymoon is over and people stop going for joy rides? Will the ride-share model work in a city where the season for skinny tires is short? Seeing the bikes vandalized, pushed over for fun and take a beating in the first few weeks proves that the units can’t pay for themselves unless users show some respect. If the scooters are stored during the winter, the margin for profit is smaller than the tires. Let’s hope their pedal-powered cousins can ride out the winter.

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