Finding the 'sweet spot' for Kelowna's shared e-scooters

E-scooter pilot project

Kelowna is officially in the last season of its pilot program allowing shared e-scooters on city streets. So the question now is if they should remain.

E-scooters are popular around the world and if you’ve ever used one, it’s not hard to see why. They’re fun, convenient, relatively quick and you can get to your destination without breaking a sweat — which can be the concern with a regular bicycle.

In fact, Kelowna reported 1,700 shared e-scooter trips per day of the program between April and June of 2021.

But they also present challenges. There’s been widespread reports from Kelowna General Hospital that fractures, hand and neck injuries, have been pervasive with users of Kelowna’s shared e-scooters.

The RCMP has also raised concerns over e-scooter usage by drunk riders, however the same is likely occurring on bicycles downtown after-hours — there’s just no interest to look into it.

There’s also concerns about accessibility. With the existing program, you can leave your e-scooter anywhere. While the apps try to force people to leave them off the sidewalk to keep areas clear for people with mobility challenges, a walk around our streets will show you that doesn’t always occur.

So the question remains—should we endeavour to keep shared e-scooters on our streets once the provincial pilot expires? And if so, what if any changes should be made?

To get to the initial point of whether we should allow them, I think we should address why we should allow government to stop us from using them in the first place. Bicycles can be used anywhere and any time, whether battery powered or physically powered, and there seems to be little concern over the shared bicycle program.

So what makes an e-scooter any different? One could argue more people are getting injured on e-scooters, but how many people grew up riding e-scooters? Like with any new activity, it will take people time and practice to learn how to use them safely and learn what the rules for usage are.

But just because people are bad at using them doesn’t mean we should ban them. The desire to regulate e-scooters appears to be simply based on the fact that they are a new technology and government sees it as an opportunity to step in and regulate it to a degree.

I believe the largest issue is with the shared e-scooters’ “drop anywhere” portion of the program rather than the e-scooters presence in general.

While Kelowna doesn’t have a significant number of e-scooters, it’s less obvious. But in city’s across the world—from Washington D.C. to Paris—the streets are littered with e-scooters. In fact, Paris recently announced a ban on e-scooters. When e-scooters are left all over city streets, they pose serious accessibility concerns.

Imagine you’re in a wheelchair or on crutches and there’s a bunch of e-scooters blocking the sidewalk, how do you navigate that?

On the other hand, shared docked bicycle programs exist across Canada and the world. In Toronto, Bike Share Toronto exists, where you can rent bicycles from docking stations (parked off and away from the sidewalk) from all across the city.

When you’re done, you have to return it to another conveniently placed docking station. Having used the program myself, I’ve never had an issue finding a docking station because people’s destinations are largely consistent and easy for operators to predict, so they can put the docking stations there.

Bike Share Toronto now offers both e-bikes and regular bikes, and the e-bikes charge in the docking station, which if applied to e-scooters, would also fix the concern of finding an e-scooter with sufficient battery.

I believe a similar model for shared e-scooters is necessary. Will it be slightly less convenient for people? Yes, probably. Will fewer people use it? Perhaps. But it will address the accessibility and unsightly characteristics of the existing program.

Further, while I’m just theorizing, we may see fewer drunk riders downtown amongst the people renting them to go a couple of blocks just for fun, and fewer getting in the way of everyone because it requires the coordination to find a docking station to rent it from and then another to put it away.

These are simply some ideas. They’re not all encompassing but I believe there’s a sweet spot where we can ensure government does regulate out the use of a convenient travel mode, while ensuring we protect our streets for everyone.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Wilson on Water Street articles

About the Author

Adam Wilson is from Kelowna and has an educational background in urban planning, where he published his research on the politicization of cycling infrastructure in the Journal of Transportation Geography. 

Adam was named as one of Kelowna’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2017 for both his research into cycling infrastructure and a number of political interviews he had done with Macleans, the National Post and CBC News. 

He previously worked as an urban planner in Toronto, where he focused on provincial legislation and municipal approval processes.

Most recently, Adam worked for Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, where he held various positions, including as the minister’s executive director of policy and strategic planning, and the minister’s director of communications. 

Adam now lives in Kelowna with his partner and works in the health care sector, while running his own consultancy that provides strategic advice on local municipal issues.

Email Adam at: [email protected]

His website is adamwilson.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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