“We’ve had some pretty good success with the e-bikes and some good uptake from staff.” ~ Rod Fraser, city manager of operational services
City of Powell River is using e-bikes to great success in helping transport employees around the qathet region municipality.
Todd Griffiths, building inspector, is the predominant user, with more staff members being trained in the use of the bicycles. Griffiths said basic training has been undertaken for about 10 employees, in departments such as information technology, engineering and planning.
Griffiths said he uses the e-bike every single day for activities such as site inspections.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Griffiths. “It allows me to get a bit of exercise, it allows me to get some fresh air, as opposed to me sitting in a vehicle. I would say 80 per cent of my site visits are within four kilometres of city hall, so the distances travelled are generally pretty short.”
Griffiths said the maximum velocity of an e-bike is less than that of a car, but because the distances travelled are so short, the time for transit is not significantly more.
“I just walk upstairs, hop on the bike and then I’m out,” said Griffiths. “I love using it.”
The first e-bike was purchased around the beginning of summer in 2021, the second was purchased at the end of the summer, and the city was able to take advantage of an incentive put on for municipal governments, with a $700 provincial rebate for each electric bike.
“It was part of the incentive, but it had to be a cargo bike,” said Griffiths. “They are an elongated style and designed to carry a collection of different things. I outfitted the one I use with a weather-tight cargo box on the back of it, which allows me to take a binder, a hard hat if I need it, warmer clothing and rain gear, food, snacks and a naloxone kit. I don’t have to have a backpack on.
“By using the bikes effectively, we are trying to replace a vehicle, so having carrying capacity is valuable because I often have to bring things with me.”
Griffiths said that while the cargo bikes are heavy, the motor does a lot of work.
“The motor is definitely helping me out go up the hills,” said Griffiths. “A non-electric bike would be less time efficient because I wouldn’t be able to move nearly as quickly climbing up some of the steeper hills we have in Powell River. For me, it was a really easy transition after years of peddling regular bicycles. The e-bikes we have are a good style and size for the needs we have here at city hall.”
When he shows up at job sites on an e-bike, Griffiths said the mode of transport has been well received.
“It’s hard to deny that it has been a wise and reasonable choice,” said Griffiths. “Generally, people love it. I think it brings smiles to faces seeing me cruising around.”
Griffiths said the e-bikes have virtually zero operating costs and a very low entry cost. There are no negative ramifications other than the bikes being marginally slower than cars, he added.
All weather rider
He rides all year and has clocked more than 3,000 kilometres on the bikes since they have been procured. He rides in the rain and has gear to keep him dry in those conditions.
“I take the approach that if the construction teams can be working in the rain, then I can certainly ride to their sites in the rain,” said Griffiths.
The only thing that stops him is ice or snow, which is infrequent.
Griffiths said he is hoping that he is setting a bit of a precedent for city hall staff and the general public. He hopes city hall staff members, when they see the bikes in action, will be more inclined to try cycling.
The e-bikes have even been used by sustainability planner Ana Lukyanova, taking consultants to examine cycling infrastructure in the city, providing a firsthand view of what’s available and the challenges the city faces.
Griffiths estimates the e-bikes have a range of about 50 kilometres on a charge and doesn’t know of a day where he has ridden for more than 40 kilometres, so running out of electricity hasn’t been an issue. He has covered inspections at the top of Wildwood, and down to Westminster Street in the southern recesses of the municipality. Griffiths said having the power plant for going up the Wildwood hill or Kemano Street is a welcome addition.
Griffiths said he likes the idea of having a collection of electrified bikes for city staff use. He said the return on investment is extremely fast with gas running $2.40 a litre.
“The bikes are such a great addition and I’m thankful that I was asked if I would use one,” said Griffiths. “It’s been a success and I hope that it continues to be a success.”
City manager of operational services Rod Fraser said purchasing e-bikes is part of an electrification of the city’s fleet, they have a great price point, and are efficient to ferry people around for a low cost.
“We’ve had some pretty good success with the e-bikes and some good uptake from staff,” added Fraser. “As far as our motor vehicle fleet goes, we’re starting to see more availability in electric vehicles and especially the passenger type. We’re seeing the big vehicle manufacturers offer more fully electric vehicles.
“We do have one electric car and we have charging stations at different facilities, which we will have to add to as our fleet expands. We have two vans we are hoping to secure next, and another electric car. The next batch is scheduled to come in 2024, with four or five that we’re looking to purchase.”
While electric vehicles are more expensive to purchase initially, Fraser said over their life cycle, paying for gas and oil changes, versus paying for electricity, it’s less expensive to run fully electric passenger vehicles. He said the economies for big trucks are still not there because of the high cost of the technology.
Fraser said the city has received funding from Powell River Community Forest for topping up the difference between gas and fully electric vehicles. He added that the city is an ideal location for electric vehicles because it is compact, so range isn’t an issue.