Uber could soon be coming to Metro Vancouver, but it will be on two wheels instead of four.
The ridesharing giant is hoping to get wheels on the ground through its new electric bike-share program, and is betting local commuters are willing to ditch the car commute with a little help from a powered bike.
The sleek, cherry red “JUMP” bikes have a battery-powered 500-watt motor, and can reach a top speed of 32 kilometres per hour or offer assistance to riders climbing steep hills.
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And unlike Vancouver’s existing bike-share program, they don’t use docking stations.
Instead, the system operates more like popular car-share programs Car2go or Evo, with users able to drop a bike anywhere they can safely and legally lock it up, within the service zone.
Riders would find and pay for the bikes using the Uber app, and the company would take care of ensuring batteries are charged and bikes are distributed evenly around a municipality.
“We hope to be here as soon as we can and we’re starting to talk to cities now,” said Uber’s public policy manager Michael van Hemmen.
Uber acquired JUMP bikes earlier this year, and the system is now up and running in nine North American cities, including San Francisco, New York and Chicago, and is exploring expansion to Berlin.
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It has also launched a similar dockless scooter-share system called Lime.
Dockless bike-share systems have proven popular, but they’ve also drawn complaints.
Authorities in some cities have been forced to collect improperly parked bikes which have been left blocking traffic or walkways, or in some cases, even dumped in rivers.
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New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté admits that’s a challenge that municipalities interested in the system will need to tackle if they want to join the program.
“I think there has been some controversy with scooters being littered across communities,” said Coté.
“Cities have to be interested in it as a mobility option, but also need to make sure they have the right regulations in place to make sure they’re not creating nuisances in neighbourhoods across town as well.”
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However, Coté said the benefits could well outweigh the challenges, particularly in notoriously hilly cities like New Westminster.
He said the addition of electric motors into the bike-share equation could be a “game changer.”
“Often, steep hills can be a big barrier to getting people out cycling, and it’s a program that the city of New Westminster is going to be really interested in following up on,” he said.
Uber has yet to reveal any kind of Canadian pricing model, but in other cities, the bikes cost a few dollars per short ride. It has also yet to reveal which Metro Vancouver municipalities could potentially play host to the bikes.
As for the company’s more traditional vehicle-based ridesharing system, B.C. isn’t likely to see it until at least the fall of 2019.
— With files from Ted Chernecki and Rebecca Joseph