*Tap the brakes on electric scooters *
MAYBE it’s a movement — a forward-surging trend that seeks to embrace a more carbon-friendly style of commuting. Or perhaps it’s just a fad — a kooky cyber-age craze that’s destined to disappear as quickly and mysteriously as it materialized.
Whatever the case, the suggestion last week by Coun. Matt Allard that Winnipeg should ready itself to become part of the electric-scooter wave that has swept through many cities in the United States and Canada is sure to generate as much controversy as it does conversation.
“We want to be ready for electric scooters because this is happening across North America,” the chairman of the city’s public works committee said Wednesday. “They’re coming, so let’s get it right.”
While Mr. Allard is to be commended for imploring a proactive approach to what might become an issue of public concern, one surely hopes he is mistaken in suggesting that Winnipeg will have no say whatsoever in deciding whether thousands of pay-per-ride motorized scooters suddenly roll into its streets.
A clutch of California-based companies, including Lime, Bird, Skip and Spin, last year put tens of thousands of electric scooters into service in major urban centres around the world. The concept is simple: riders download a smartphone app, input credit card information and then use the app to unlock a scooter for pay-as-you-ride use.
The cost is typically around $1 to start, and then about 30 cents for each minute of ride time.
In other cities in which they’ve been introduced — suddenly, and in great numbers — the scooters have proven quite popular. But within the first year, the electric-scooter concept has also experienced significant backlash from municipal leaders who view them as some combination of a nuisance and a menace.
San Francisco issued cease-and-desist letters to the scooter companies, resulting in the two-wheelers being temporarily removed from that city’s streets (their reintroduction carried numerous conditions). One California community instructed its police department to enforce traffic laws to the letter, requiring scooter operators to wear helmets and carry valid driver’s licences.
Other cities have banned them from certain areas. The mayor of Boston declared they would be immediately impounded if they showed up there.
At issue for many civic lawmakers is the manner in which the scooter craze has been unleashed — seemingly overnight, and without any permission sought from the communities in question. Also of concern, of course, is the safety issue — the scooters are capable of speeds approaching 25 km/h, which means novice riders thinking they’re jumping aboard a children’s toy often find themselves careening toward a catastrophic injury. Electric scooters are motor vehicles, and should be regulated as such.
And that means the scooter trend’s arrival in Winnipeg should not be treated as a foregone conclusion. City council and civic administrators — and, for that matter, the province, which oversees the Highway Traffic Act — should treat very seriously the suggestion that any company can turn up unannounced with a few truckloads of motorized scooters and declare they’re ready to ride on Winnipeg’s streets.
Of course, hereabouts there are also the issues of five months of frozen streets, a woefully inadequate and often pothole-impeded cycling infrastructure and an alarming rate of theft of two-wheeled conveyances to be considered. In Winnipeg, that’s how we roll.
In other words, while it’s always best to be ready, there’s a whole lot that needs to be made right before anyone declares, “They’re coming.”