Up until this summer, electric stand-up kick scooters were illegal on the streets of Vancouver, though you hardly would have guessed it.
Increasingly popular e-scooters are a common sight in the city, zipping alongside streets and scooting through the city’s ubiquitous bike lanes.
However, angering Vancouver’s growing legions of scooter-haters, they’re also ripping through traffic on busy commuter corridors and skimming along on the city’s sidewalks.
Are e-scooters at the forefront of a personal transportation revolution? Or are they Canada’s latest urban menace?
“Anything can be menace in the hands of a negligent and inconsiderate operator,” argues Pete Fry, the only member of Vancouver city council to recently vote against legalizing e-scooters in the city.
“I’ve seen some outrageous behaviour,” Fry told me.
“I saw one guy the other day wearing a full combat face mask, weaving in and out of bike traffic like a crazy man. It was super reckless, almost to the point of causing other people to wipe out.”
Despite Fry’s concerns, Vancouver city council voted overwhelmingly to legalize electric stand-up scooters on the city’s residential side streets and bike lanes as part of a two-year-long pilot project.
The e-scooters face a 24 km/h speed limit, and riders must be at least 16 years of age and wear a helmet while riding. No licence or insurance is required.
In a city with North America’s highest gasoline prices, the electric scooters are becoming a more popular choice for commuters.
“We can’t keep them in stock. They fly out the door as soon as we get more in,” Lukas Tanasiuk, co-founder of Eevee’s electric vehicle store in Vancouver, told me.
“For ease of mobility throughout the city, these scooters are great options.”
City councillor Lisa Dominato says legalizing e-scooters just made sense for a transportation option that people were using illegally anyway.
“People are using them all over the place,” she told me. “It’s a classic example of government catching up to technology and science innovation.”
Other Canadian cities are also legalizing e-scooters, but not with unanimous success.
In Kelowna, B.C., city council is thinking of cancelling its earlier approval of a shared e-scooter model, where scooter rental companies are doing a booming business.
Riders can rent the e-scooters by the hour with just the swipe of a credit card, and leave them in designated drop-off points in the city when they’re done.
Unfortunately, the city has experienced a rash of drunk and stoned riders making life dangerous for pedestrians and motorists alike. And citizens report e-scooters are left blocking sidewalks instead of being returned to designated drop-off zones.
“They are being used as a novelty, not as transportation,” complained Kelowna city councillor Brad Sieben. “I don’t think it’s achieving the goals that we hoped it might.”
Council recently voted to cut the number of rental scooters allowed in the city and reduce their legal operating hours, along with a threat to banish them completely if riders don’t start following the rules.
Tanasiuk, the Vancouver scooter retailer, told me many cities are making the mistake of legalizing scooter rental for joyriders instead of recognizing their value as a clean, cheap and safe daily travel option for commuters.
“People treat rental scooters like crap and it paints a bad picture for the entire community,” he said.
“A more tactful approach is to go for private purchase. People will treat their scooters with more respect and ride them more carefully if they own them.”
But Fry, the anti-scooter city councillor in Vancouver, said municipalities should worry about a bigger issue: Liability for cities that allow e-scooters to wreak urban havoc.
“The city of Toronto just pulled out of Ontario’s electric scooter pilot program because of safety and liability concerns,” Fry said. “They banned them.”
He said Vancouver — and other Canadian cities — should consider doing the same, if the e-scooter experiment goes sideways.
Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews.