Edmonton’s extreme caution in jumping on the two-wheeled micro-mobility bandwagon doesn’t look so laughable as the trend shakes out in other cities.
Based on shifts to escooters and away from ebikes, we may have missed the bike-share boat altogether. While Edmonton was deliberating, Drop Bike executed a successful bike share launch in the summer of 2018 in Kelowna, and Lime Bike brought ebikes to Calgary in October 2018 and operated through the winter.
But by May, Drop Bike had pulled out early from Kelowna’s pilot. In June, not a single ebike company had stepped into the Kelowna market and several scooter companies rolled into the gap. In February with winter still underway, Lime started pulling its bikes out of U.S. cities and dropped “Bike” from its name, even as they reassured Calgarians they’d keep their ebikes to the end of the pilot. Yet in early summer Lime scooters replaced the distinctive Lime-coloured ebikes virtually overnight. Bird scooters followed shortly after and Calgarians scooted through summer.
Within weeks over 60 Emergency Room visits were recorded for broken bones and head injuries. OGO, a company with Edmonton roots, provides a helmet for each escooter in Kelowna. In June OGO encouraged Edmonton to proceed slowly. Our city’s planned rollout doesn’t come with any special requirements for helmet use.
Other cities are facing a rash of deaths and head injuries. Atlanta suspended night scooting after four deaths between May and mid-August. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is weighing in, noting almost half of escooter injuries involve head trauma. Councillor Scott McKeen voted against the move and says ebikes are legitimate, but, “There are more problems than answers with e-scooters.”
“Atlanta suspended night scooting after four deaths between May and mid-August. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is weighing in, noting almost half of escooter injuries involve head trauma.”
The market is driving the nature of our micromobility choices and cities are embracing market-driven initiatives as inexpensive ways of replacing short vehicle trips. (Although a study published in August found about half of all escooter trips would have resulted a walk or bike ride instead.) Kelowna’s bike pilot resulted in 33,000 trips over four months, and 28 per cent would have been by vehicle had the bikes not been available. As we race to reinvent our cities to combat climate change, the stakes are high, and ebikes and escooters are both reducing vehicle trips, although it’s not clear if escooter users will replace the same number of vehicle trips that ebike users were logging. And – to coin a phrase – winter is coming.
Escooters haven’t been tested in many winter cities. When Calgary’s ebike service rolled out last winter, some wondered if the weather would keep people off the bikes, but 50,000 trips were logged by May. Calgary’s escooter pilot will suspend operations over the winter season, but Edmonton’s standard license has an expiry date of Dec. 31, 2019 with an option for an extension.
The overall trend last winter in northern cities was for the big scooter/bike operators to redeploy fleets to warmer centres. Coming in late into the micromobility market might provide an advantage for Edmonton. The bike network and the 102 Avenue protected bike lanes that connect the core through Oliver to Glenora are kept clear on most winter days and they could offer the perfect testing grounds for companies wanting to see how ebikes and escooters work in a real winter city.