Politicians and planners look to data for answers on e-scooters

0
27

Corey Larkin rides in downtown Calgary, Alberta on Sept. 13, 2019 with his dog Ben.

Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

Calgarians puttering around on electric scooters flock to Prince’s Island Park, a downtown gem and the river paths. Montrealers favour Old Montreal. And in Edmonton, Whyte Avenue, known for pubs and shops, is a popular destination.

A handful of Canadian cities launched e-scooter pilot projects this summer, writing bylaws with limited data. Even the most basic rule – where, exactly, are riders allowed to scoot – varies from city to city. In Edmonton, for example, scooters are allowed on streets with speed limits up to 50 kilometres an hour, but not sidewalks; in Calgary, sidewalks are in and roads are out.

Now, as summer wraps up, politicians and urban planners have information they will use to rewrite the rules for shared e-scooters. But the data will do far more than influence speed limits on pathways. It will affect large-scale infrastructure plans – the types of projects that cost billions of dollars and take years to complete.

Story continues below advertisement

Shauna Brail is a professor at the University of Toronto’s urban-planning program and studies new methods of transportation – think bike-sharing programs and autonomous vehicles – in cities. She anticipates cities will adopt stricter rules around where users can leave their scooters.

“I think we’ll start to see more and more regulations around parking,” Dr. Brail said. “This is one of the biggest pieces of contention.”

Two companies dominate pilot projects in Canada: Lime and Bird. Riders use apps to find and unlock scooters, and are generally charged a flat rate to get started and then pay by the minute. Users in some cities can leave the scooters anywhere within designated boundaries; riders in other cities can park only in specific spots. Some cities allow parking on sidewalks, so long as the scooters do not obstruct the walkway.

Calgary received 62 complaints through its 311 service about abandoned or improperly parked scooters in the first nine weeks of the pilot project. Parking complaints were the second-most common reason citizens turned to 311 regarding scooters, behind sidewalk conflicts.

Montreal, which launched its pilot project in August, has already taken action to thwart troublesome parking jobs. Politicians there last week announced plans to fine e-scooter and e-bike users $50 for shoddy parking and Montreal will fine the companies $100 every time a police officer or city official finds one of their respective scooters or bikes parked illegally.

Calgary approved 1,500 scooters for the pilot project launched in the middle of July. Their popularity among users outpaced the city’s expectations. As of Wednesday, riders in Calgary had made a collective 542,374 trips covering more than 1.1 million kilometres. The median trip lasts 10 minutes, according to city data.

Roughly 142,100 unique users have used the e-scooters at least once. After accounting for tourist traffic, city officials estimate this means about 10 per cent of Calgarians have gone for at least one spin. These numbers exclude privately owned e-scooters.

Story continues below advertisement

Calgary’s 311 data show the most common concern about e-scooters stems from riding on sidewalks, which is legal in the city. Concerned citizens, for example, want the scooters to slow down and want the city to crack down on riders who are inconsiderate on the sidewalks, the city said. It counts 112 submissions related to sidewalks.

The 311 data, however, also demonstrate Calgarians are adjusting to e-scooters. Since the pilot’s launch, the city service recorded 281 submissions tied to e-scooters. Complaints spiked around the third week of the pilot, with 68 concerns registered. But submissions have dropped every week since, hitting and holding at 15 around weeks eight and nine.

Nathan Carswell, Calgary’s shared-mobility program co-ordinator, said the city will make changes as data flow in. Sidewalk problems, for example, may be alleviated by working with the scooter companies to lower the machines’ top speed in designated areas, such as busy downtown corridors, Mr. Carswell said.

GPS data, injury rates and the degree of conflict with pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, will help shape city infrastructure. The information, Mr. Carswell said, provides hints on where Calgary should expand its separated bike lane network, whether sidewalks in some areas should be widen, or whether there are areas where it would be appropriate to allow scooters on roadways, for example.

“I think they are here for the long run,” he said.

In Edmonton, which launched its pilot project in the middle of August, Mayor Don Iveson noted pedestrians, business owners and people with mobility issues have complained about users illegally riding the scooters on the sidewalk.

Story continues below advertisement

“It is not going well,” he said. The mayor has also said if issues persist, Edmonton will reassess whether e-scooters are suitable in Alberta’s capital.

Eddy Lang, the department head for emergency medicine at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, is analyzing statistics related ER and urgent care visits related to scooters and bicycle incidents. There have been 477 visits to Calgary’s ER and urgent care facilities owing to scooter injuries. Fractures are the most common reason, clocking in at 121 incidents, followed by head and facial injuries, at 83 visits. Visits related to bicycle injuries far outpace scooter visits, but there are far more cyclists than scooter riders in the city.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.