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E-scooter share pilot program underway in Waterloo, first of its kind in Canada

Lime-S e-scooters will be seen around Waterloo soon.
Lime-S e-scooters will be seen around Waterloo soon. Lime

The first electric-scooter-share service to hit the market in Canada got underway Tuesday in Waterloo.

U.S.-based Lime has brought its service to Waterloo for a test run which will be limited in scope due to regulations stemming from the Highway Traffic Act.

Waterloo is only permitting the e-scooters, which are meant to be operated in bike lines, to be used on a 6.5-kilometre route that includes Waterloo Park with the University Waterloo’s main campus and connects with David Johnston Research + Technology Park, said the city’s senior economic development adviser Ryan Mounsey.

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For now, that suits Lime just fine as they do not believe the scooters are meant for sidewalks.

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“We see them as a bike product and really should be operating in bike lanes or on the side of the road and not on sidewalks,” Nico Probst, manager of Midwest strategic development of Lime, told Global News. “The classification of the Highway Traffic Act in the province prevents that from occurring in a real way.”

While Waterloo is one where they are able to conduct the test run, that is far from the only reason the company was attracted to the city.

“We were always interested in the city because they’ve got such an ingrained tech community because the barrier to entry for a user with this product is pretty low,” Probst explained.

Mayor Dave Jaworsky says the city of Waterloo is looking at ways to provide alternative options for transportation.

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“The City of Waterloo is committed to encouraging and enabling alternate forms of transportation that appeal to a wide spectrum of our residents. E-scooters have become a popular option in many other communities and I’m pleased that we are the first Canadian city to pilot a broad use of this mode of transportation,” he said in a statement.

Lime users will need to download an app which will tell them where a nearby available scooter is. They will then unlock the scooter and take it to the nearest destination where they will drop it off in “furniture zone of the sidewalk or next to a bike rack,” as there are no docking stations.

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It will cost $1 to unlock plus an additional 30 cents per minute to use one of Lime’s e-scooters. The scooters will be available until the end of November, “or until there is snow.”

The scooters are not built to withstand the cold, snowy weather that southern Ontario sees.

The company also offers traditional bike and e-bike rentals but the test run in Waterloo will just be scooters.

Probst says the company has been surprised by the popularity of the scooters.

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“We thought that the usage would be high. I don’t think we necessarily anticipated how high it would be,” he explained. “In a typical bike market, we see one to two rides on a bike per day and that’s a really good strong market for us. The scooters are typically getting four to five in a really strong market for us on a typical day.”

He believes there are a couple of factors which set it apart from traditional bikes including the fact that the scooters don’t require pedal power and riders need not worry about getting sweaty on the way to the office or abstain from certain clothing options.

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Lime will also be adding new jobs to the local market although Probst was unable to specify how many.

He said Lime already has a team in place which includes an operations manager, operations specialists and mechanics.

“We can being real tech jobs to the community in short succession,” he pointed out.

READ MORE: Calgary councillor proposes city move ahead with bike sharing service

While Waterloo has said yes to Lime, at least in a limited run, there have been issues with e-scooters in some U.S. markets.

Seattle is one of several cities which will now allow the use of them after safety concerns were highlighted in a Washington Post report linking two deaths with their use, as well as increased visits to emergency rooms from e-scooter users.

Probst says Lime does its best to encourage safety among users with a tutorial upon initial login as well as a maximum speed limit of 24 km/h in Canada, a speed designed to mimic bicycles.

They also encourage helmet use and will be handing out helmets in the area in the coming days.

“We can’t require it, Probst said. “That’s not something we can enforce and that’s sort of hard for us to do given the sanitary concerns of sharing helmets.

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“When we come into markets, we pass out a ton of them to get that notion ingrained in people’s heads that this is a transportation product and if you are going to be interacting with cars and roadways.”

Lime will likely need provincial approval before it can operate in most areas, including Toronto, which is keeping an eye on the test.

“Under the province of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, vehicles like e-scooters are considered not legal for use on city/public roads, including within bike lanes,” Eric Holmes, a city of Toronto spokesperson, told Global News.

“We look forward to learning the results of Waterloo’s pilot program on select private roads and paths, and any potential outcomes that may impact the province’s Highway Traffic Act.”

With files from The Canadian Press