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There are several pilots – including programs in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec – that are allowing e-scooters to ride in public areas.Gavin John/The Globe and Mail

There are all these battery-powered devices now that I see people riding on sidewalks, on the street, on the seawall and in bike lanes. There are e-scooters, e-skateboards, hoverboards and these one-wheeled e-things. Some of them look like they go pretty fast. Where are people allowed to drive them, exactly? Are they allowed anywhere? – Jane, Vancouver

Surging interest in “E” products might be great for electric vehicle adoption, but it sure doesn’t stand for everywhere.

While rules vary by city and province, e-skateboards, hoverboards, e-rollerskates and e-unicycles generally aren’t allowed on public roads, sidewalks or bike lanes.

In many cities, that list of technically-banned devices includes e-scooters.

In Vancouver, for instance, you can ride human-powered skateboards, scooters or unicycles in bike lanes and on roads – but once they have a motor, you can’t.

That’s because even though British Columbia’s Motor Vehicle Act defines battery-powered devices as motor vehicles, they don’t meet provincial equipment safety standards for on-road use, the city said in an email.

In Vancouver, the fine for riding a hoverboard, e-skateboard, e-scooter or other device on the road, sidewalk, seawall or bike lane could be up to $600

Police can decide which laws to charge you with, including operating a motor vehicle without insurance. But Vancouver police said they tend to “educate as much as possible prior to issuing tickets.” They didn’t immediately provide information on the number of tickets they’ve given.

Meanwhile, Montreal police said in an email that between May 1 and Aug 10 of this year, 19 tickets had been issued for riding e-devices, including e-scooters, on public roads (a $174 fine) and 13 tickets for riding them on cycle paths (a $44 fine). Police in Calgary and Toronto didn’t immediately respond on their numbers.

The various devices are part of a transportation trend called micromobility, which includes vehicles smaller than a car, motorcycle or moped – including pedal-powered bicycles.

The idea is that they let you commute without hopping into a gas-powered car.

Depending on the local source of electricity battery-powered micromobility vehicles could potentially reduce road congestion and carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change.

While e-device sales are increasing, the tech is moving faster than the law, said Tom Bramble, who owns Vancouver Electric Unicycles, an online retailer.

“It’s certainly a grey area,” said Bramble, an IT professional who has been selling e-unicycles on the side since he first rode one in 2016. “Three years ago, I had a couple of customers who were issued a ticket for operating a motor vehicle without insurance – which they challenged and it was reduced to failure to wear a helmet.”

Bramble said he requires buyers to sign a waiver making sure they use the single-wheeled device – which is the size of a briefcase and can, depending on the size of the battery, go as far as 150 km on a charge – responsibly and follow local laws.

Bramble said he hasn’t heard of any buyers getting tickets in Vancouver over the last year. Realistically however, if you can’t ride them on roads, sidewalks or trails, private property may be your option.

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E is for exceptions?

There is already an exception for e-bikes, which are mostly allowed anywhere bicycles are. But there’s increasingly another exception: e-scooters.

There are now several pilots – including programs in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec – that are allowing e-scooters to ride in public areas.

The exact rules depend on the city and province, though they tend to be complicated. Alberta, for instance, allows you to drive shared e-scooters in public, but not privately owned e-scooters. Even then, the rules differ between cities: for instance, Calgary allows e-scooters on sidewalks but Edmonton doesn’t.

In B.C., Vancouver is one of six cities in a pilot which will allow e-scooters in bike lanes and on residential streets that don’t have lanes and where the speed limit is 50 km/h or less. This pilot is expected to last through to 2024, but the scooters won’t be allowed on sidewalks and can’t have motors that go faster than 24 km/h.

The rules will be similar to the rules for e-bikes – riders won’t need a driver’s licence or insurance, but they will need to be 16 or older, and wear a helmet.

At least two cities in the pilot, Vancouver and North Vancouver, aren’t allowing shared e-scooters schemes – which lets users pick up and drop off scooters using an app – but they are allowing people to legally ride their own scooters.

“We expect e-scooters to be legal in September, once the province and council approve the appropriate bylaw changes,” the city of Vancouver said in an email. “Rentals and shared programs are not part of the pilot at this time but may be considered in the future once safety, accessibility and other considerations are better understood.”

In Ontario’s five-year pilot, it’s up to cities to pass bylaws to allow e-scooter use and define where they can operate, the province said in an email.

Toronto, for instance, opted out of joining the pilot. The reasons included worries about how to insure the devices and difficulty enforcing rules.

That decision means e-scooters aren’t allowed anywhere in Toronto except private property, at least technically.

E-unicycle seller Bramble thinks the rules will ultimately catch up to demand for the devices.

“I think once there’s sufficient public support, they’ll need to be accommodated rather than just banned,” Bramble said. “Anything that gets people out of cars is beneficial.”

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