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E-scooter companies eyeing return to Alberta after COVID-19 put the brakes on spring launch

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WATCH ABOVE: E-scooter companies are in talks with both Calgary and Edmonton to launch scooters in both markets again this summer, but with concerns over cleaning and social distancing measures, it’s unclear when they'll be back on the street. Adam MacVicar reports.

Electric scooter companies have been preparing to launch in Calgary and Edmonton following a successful pilot project last summer, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to those plans.

Both Lime and Bird Canada had planned to return to Alberta’s largest cities in March and April, but were forced to make alternative plans after strict health measures were implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We were actually just weeks away from launching, we had a plan to launch in both cities kind of around that April 1 time frame,” Bird Canada CEO Stewart Lyons said.

“The scooters were ready to go, they were cleaned, shined up and ready to be put out, and then everything was brought to a halt.”

READ MORE: E-scooters not returning to Edmonton streets this spring due to COVID-19

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According to company officials, Lime has paused their in all markets except South Korea.

Instead, the company is launching Lime Aid: a service launched in 14 cities to provide a ride for essential services like healthcare workers and first responders.

“We’re in conversations with cities and partnering with them to provide an essential service to get scooters out on the streets,” Lime communications and public affairs manager Alex Youn said.

“Microability is already proving to be a preferred option for travel in many cities around the globe, and so we’re hoping that the mobility industry will be vital to the global COVID recovery.”

READ MORE: Alberta sees 5 more COVID-19 deaths, 1st case on First Nation

Roll, a new company set to enter the Alberta market, is also working on an essential service ridership program for healthcare workers.

A Roll electric scooter.
A Roll electric scooter. Credit: Roll

Meanwhile, Bird has offered similar services to both Calgary and Edmonton.

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Scooters should be an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lyons said, as concern continues to grow over transmission of the virus in other modes of public transportation.

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“Some cities like San Francisco and L.A., they look at scooters as an essential service during coronavirus,” Lyons said.  “The reason being is some people are afraid or unwilling to use, or unable to use public transit given the crisis and social distancing concerns.”

In March, the City of Calgary postponed its electric scooter program until further notice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click to play video 'Edmonton extends state of emergency, cancels sports leagues until May 31' Edmonton extends state of emergency, cancels sports leagues until May 31
Edmonton extends state of emergency, cancels sports leagues until May 31

Last week, Edmonton followed suit and temporarily suspended their scooter program as well, and vowed to reassess the decision at the end of May.

“Our ongoing priority is to protect the health and safety of Edmontonians and there was concern that the use of e-scooters could unintentionally spread the virus,” City of Edmonton communications advisor Ashish Mohan said in a statement to Global News.

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“The city notified all businesses that had received licencing agreements about this decision before it was publicly announced.” 

READ MORE: Worker from JBS meat packing plant near Brooks dies with COVID-19 test pending

However, all three companies said they remain in communication with officials in both Calgary and Edmonton about a potential scooter launch this summer.

“We’ve been in conversation with leadership and we want to make sure to continue our wonderful partnership both in Edmonton and in Calgary,” Youn said. “We want to make sure that when we do roll out Lime Aid in these communities, that it makes sense for those communities and to have a direct working partnership with them.”

The biggest concern among both cities, according to Lyons, is how to keep the scooters sanitized as well as maintain social distancing measures. Bird said it plans to sanitize their scooters twice a day and provide gloves to users.

Youn said Lime is also enhancing its cleaning methods, and the company will sanitize all scooters.
Lime users will also receive an in-app message outlining best practices including hand washing, wearing gloves if possible, and solo riding to maintain social distancing, Youn added.
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Roll, which planned to launch 500 scooters at the beginning of April in both markets, is also working on a cleaning program with its users.

“We will try to clean—  during the day — the handlebars, the tube, but we will also ask our customers to sanitize their hands after each ride,” Roll Technologies CCO Arda Erturk said. “The main focus for us is the safety and health of our users.”

READ MORE: E-scooters return to Calgary in spring 2020: Here’s what’s changed

However, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi isn’t anticipating e-scooters on city pathways anytime soon.

Nenshi said that the decision lies with provincial health officials, and even if they’re giving the go-ahead, municipal officials will ultimately make the decision whether to restart the project again this year.

“I’m a fan of these things, people love them, and I think that the city should be doing things that people love,” Nenshi said. “But right now public health is our primary priority and we will take advice from public health officials on that.”

According to Alberta Health, the use of a scooter would need to follow existing public health measures in place, such as social distancing, as well as ensuring health precautions are taken, like necessary cleaning and sanitizing of the scooters.

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Alberta Health said it is looking into e-scooters and may provide further guidance in the coming weeks.