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Calgary escooter changes ahead for potential 2021 roll out

Escooters could be allowed on some Calgary roads in 2021 and marked with identification numbers to track bad behaviour, according to the city’s final pilot project report.

Overall, roughly 1.9 million trips came from 200,000 unique visitors in the two-year pilot that ran October 2018 to October 2020. The final report on the pilot project comes to the Dec. 16 Transportation and Transit committee meeting.

Administration is recommending that escooters continue private operation in Calgary. They had made changes earlier this year to boost fines and add speed zones prior to pandemic use.

Three companies operated in Calgary – Lime, Bird and Roll – in 2020, with 2,800 scooters available for Calgary riders.

“The scooter pilot has been massively successful in this city,” said Coun. Evan Woolley, who drove the project forward in its early days.

“We have the number one ridership, per capita, in North America.”

Woolley said Calgarians have adapted to and embraced different modes of transportation to get around the city.

“It kind of collapses space and time, which sounds far out but it’s not really,” he said.

“These micro-mobilities are incredibly quick tools to get around.”

The pilot didn’t come without speed bumps. Complaints over poor driving behaviour and parking issues hit a rate of three per day over the two years. 

There were 20 per cent more 311 complaints in 2020 than in 2019, but the scooters were on the road for 50 additional days.

Behaviour complaints plummeted in 2020, while parking complaints spiked.

Woolley said he thinks the sheer volume of escooters contributed to the parking problem. The city will limit the number of scooters to 1,500, the report read.

“Sometimes people get a little bit lazy in their behaviours,” he said.

“When you’re first parking your scooter, you’re kind of being more intentional about it.”

Tracking delinquent escooter riders

Users should expect some changes to the operation of escooters when they make a spring return.

Among the administration recommendations is the requirement of a visible ID number on each scooter. These numbers will be trackable by time and location and can be used to pinpoint poor user behaviour, the city report said.

“I think it’s a really smart idea. I think people need to be held accountable, not just through the app itself,” said Woolley.  

“In the world of cell phone video, if people are acting like jerks and you can shoot a video of them acting like jerks, having an identifier on the scooter is a good way to manage some of those jerky interactions.”

Chris Schafer, VP of Government Affairs for Bird Canada, said they ran a 2020 pilot program in Ottawa with this system.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox to hold riders accountable,” he told LiveWire Calgary Tuesday.

“There’s a number of other ways in which we do that, but this is another way to enhance accountability.”

Schafer said there was no pushback from users in their Ottawa ID number pilot program. He expected they would roll it out in Calgary in 2021.

“It was a welcome accountability mechanism from all stakeholders that we talked to,” he said.

Escooters on some Calgary roadways

The city will also look at reducing escooter/pedestrian conflicts by allowing escooters on lower classification roads without road markings.  According to their user survey, both users and non-users were comfortable with this approach.

With that said, 60 per cent of escooter trips were on pathway or cycling networks. Roughly 40 per cent were on sidewalks or roadways.

Woolley believes that there was still a getting-used-to period between the scooters and sidewalk traffic during the pilot. He thinks those conflicts will continue to drop – and they did in 2020.

“Adding them to roads, particularly like, you think of your quiet residential streets, it just makes sense,” said Woolley.  

“Particularly in COVID times, we see people just walking and biking and doing all sorts of things in the middle of our low-density streets in order to keep a safe distance.”

Schafer cited the city’s user survey showing people would be comfortable using the escooters on some roads. Other cities in Canada and around the world allow it.

“That’s an improvement, I don’t think it’s a challenge at all,” Schafer said.

The city is also looking at using its own parking enforcement to ticket delinquent parkers. The company would get the ticket and it would be passed on to the user.

When debated, councillors also approved potential year-round use for escooters in Calgary. They’re also looking at reintroducing ebikes to pair with scooter use. Plus the city will perhaps rename the cycle tracks.

The matter must still be approved at a full meeting of council. Members of the committee approved the plan 9-0.