Edmonton company to operate e-scooters in Kelowna / by Tim Querengesser

A rider on a BIRD scooter in Baltimore.  Flickr/Elvert Barnes

A rider on a BIRD scooter in Baltimore. Flickr/Elvert Barnes

I have some exciting but also frustrating news for those who care about how we get around in our city. Edmonton-based Canada West Segway is set to operate 60 electrified scooters in an app-based share system in Kelowna.

Canada West has won the permit to operate Segway ES4 electrified scooters under the brand OGO in Kelowna, and it will do so under that city’s newly revised bikeshare permit system. As of June 25, Chris Szydlowski, president of Canada West, said all he’s waiting on now are his e-scooters to arrive.

“If I had the scooters right now, we’d be operating,” Szydlowski said. “We have all of our processes in place, our team in place, we’re ready to go.”

Kelowna is also permitting U.S-based SPIN to operate 400 e-scooters (and, if what I’m seeing in the background is correct, another Canadian company may also arrive to operate electrified vehicles in that city).

So why is this exciting yet frustrating news, then? Well, while the announcement is great for Kelowna and Canada West, it surely highlights ongoing, frustrating realities here at home.

Here, Edmonton residents still wait for their city to create even a basic permit to allow bikeshare services onto their streets. It was all supposed to be on offer this summer, after much, much delay. In January, following a 2018 motion from a councilor to investigate the possibility of bikeshare and other systems, city administration presented a report to council’s urban planning committee that advocated for a dockless permit system. At the time, city administration told the council committee it estimated a dockless bikeshare could be on Edmonton streets as early as May, 2019. Recently, that timeframe was expanded to ‘before winter.’

Either way, Edmonton is now the largest city in North America that doesn’t offer any sort of human-powered shared mobility system. This is hardly the sort of accolade we need while we make efforts to attract the world here. And while being critical in this city can work against you, despite our slogans telling us we’re risk takers, saying nothing does, well, nothing.

There are caveats to this criticism. For one, e-scooters are relatively new. Their safety isn’t fully known yet and the demonstrated habit of users dumping them anywhere and everywhere in cities that have welcomed them is not something Edmonton seems happy to consider.

This is why Szydlowski has been advocating for Edmonton to “pump the brakes” on e-scooter share.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m frustrated with bureaucracy to no end,” he said, noting that as a distributor for Segway, he’s worked to try to offer electrified mobility options in Edmonton and other places for nearly 15 years, with very limited success. Still, he said he wants to further understand the safety of e-scooters within a sharing model and to figure out how to tame how they are used before the systems come to Edmonton.

“I think it’s more important to be prudent right now to make sure this is done right versus opening new industries that we don’t know a lot about,” he said. “I don’t want to see mass chaos on our sidewalks and streets.”

But what about bikeshare? “There should be no delay on the bikeshare, at all,” he said.

Agreed.

Now, full disclosure: I explored creating a hybrid model for dockless but orderly bikeshare in Edmonton (similar in feel to the system in Hamilton, Ontario) with others. We tried to bring together government money (so, federal, provincial and municipal investment) with a corporate sponsor to create a bikeshare system aimed at delivering more mobility options to more people in our city. Think mobility for almost anyone, not just those with a credit card or smartphone.

Our effort hit many barriers. We decided it was clear the City of Edmonton wanted a bikeshare system that would require zero investment or operations money.

Since then, I’ve advocated that if privately funded dockless systems are the only way we can offer more people the chance to use a bicycle or e-scooter rather than a car for short trips, so be it. Fittingly, in January, representatives from Lime and Bird spoke at the council committee. I did too. I advocated we get a permit in place. Since then, I’m told by reliable sources there is very real interest in Edmonton from these companies. And many, many others.

Today’s news adds detail to that context. Now, it seems, there’s already a home-grown company waiting to satisfy demand and trying out its services in other cities that have a bikeshare permit in place.

It’s so beyond time to get moving, Edmonton. Let’s start with bikes and get it right on e-scooters. But let’s do something now, not ‘before winter.’