E-scooter companies operating in Kelowna, B.C., under a pilot program are launching street teams to better educate riders on safety and parking protocols, in the wake of rising complaints among pedestrians.
City council allowed e-scooters to be used city-wide on April 19 as part of a province-wide E-mobility pilot project.
The program quickly gained popularity, with the city recording an average of 1,700 trips per day. E-scooter mode share has approached a rate similar to bikes in just 45 days, the city said.
But that major uptake may have created some unintended consequences.
E-scooters have flooded the streets in Kelowna, with some left abandoned and blocking city sidewalks. Others have expressed concerns about unsafe riding behaviours.
E-scooters are restricted to 13 km/h along the waterfront and city park, riders can only operate the devices on streets, in bicycle lanes or multi-use pathways, operators must not be intoxicated, must not block sidewalks when parking, must wear a helmet, and be over the age of 16.
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Riding an E-scooter on the sidewalk is illegal, the city says.
A staff report to council on Tuesday said the space-efficient, low-carbon transportation option can take approximately 274,000 kilometers of vehicle travel off the roads, reducing an estimated 50 tons of direct vehicle emissions annually.
Staff is recommending city council support the continuation of the shared E-scooter pilot, but not issue any further permits in 2021 until the issues are ironed out.
On Sunday, the electric vehicle provider Lime announced it is launching its Lime Patrol initiative in Kelowna to ensure sidewalks are free of clutter and any wayward scooters are handled immediately.
The street team will patrol high-use areas around Kelowna to correct vehicles that were not properly parked, remind riders how to ride safely and respectfully, and advise on proper parking procedures.
“We are committed to being an adaptive and respectful transportation partner in Kelowna and right now we are focused on improving the shared scooter experience for riders and non-riders alike,” said Jen Freiman general manager of Lime Canada.
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“We’re now introducing Lime Patrol as an extra tool to encourage safe and courteous riding and parking behaviour.”
Okanagan health officials also sounded the alarm in recent weeks about the health repercussions caused by E-scooter injuries.
Interior Health said evaluations of shared e-scooter programs in the U.S. and Australia estimated that between 20 to 28 injuries per 100,000 trips required medical attention.
Ninety per cent of injuries affected riders, and about 70 per cent of injuries were either fractures or head injuries.
“A shared E-scooter program offers a novel, convenient and fun way to get around… these are important benefits that can be maximized by balancing prevention and mitigation strategies of any associated risks,” Heather Deegan, director of healthy communities, said in a letter to city council.
Clinicians at Kelowna General Hospital have also reported a rise in injuries among users of the shared e-scooter program.
The city said a number of initiatives are underway to combat unsafe E-Scooter operations.
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The city has required an intoxicated riding pledge or cognitive test when attempting to unlock an E- scooter in the late evening, the city banned riding in the downtown area between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 4 a.m., and staff will require that companies limit first-time E-scooter rides to half speed to lower the likelihood of injury.
Riders must also take a photo of how they parked to end their trip to address the parking complaints.
Warnings and fines are issued if they leave the scooter parked improperly and GPS and tip sensors alert operators when E-scooters fall over or get moved out of place.
The city is also limiting the percentage of E-scooters deployed into the downtown area to avoid overcrowding. Operators can only deploy 35 per cent of their vehicles downtown each day.
To help further motivate companies to ensure E-scooters do not block sidewalks, staff will continue to conduct parking audits and issue fines to the businesses that correspond with the number of improperly parked E-scooters that belong to each company.
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“Preliminary findings after just six weeks of implementation indicate there is strong potential for the shared E-scooter program to be a cost-effective way to help take cars off the road, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help people get around,” staff concluded.
“However, a more robust survey of riders after a longer period of time would help provide a more comprehensive picture.”
Lime said program administrators have noticed a “considerable drop” in scooter parking complaints since the street teams were launched in cities such as Calgary, Ottawa, Paris, LA and Spokane.
City council will discuss the possible extension of the program at Tuesday’s regular council briefing.
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