February 28th, 2024

E-scooters off to popular start

By COLLIN GALLANT on July 13, 2022.

Three e-scooters are lined up ready for use on a boulevard near the Aberdeen shopping block on the Southeast Hill. The company behind the pilot program, Bird Canada, has released early data about usage.--News Photo Collin Gallant


City administrators and company officials say a private pilot program to allow e-scooter rentals in Medicine Hat has come with strong, mixed opinion, but those who rent the stand-up scooters tend to do so again and again.

“There certainly has been a lot of buzz about this in the community,” said James Will, parks department director, before the program was discussed at Monday’s public services committee meeting.

In May, the city approved several changes to local bylaws which opened the door for the privately funded and run pilot program to operate.

A separate agreement allows Bird Canada to place up to 300 scooters around the city’s centre and north-end communities for rental to those who want to hop on, then leave the vehicle at their destination.

Bird Canada governmental-relations official Chris Schafer said currently the company has only 100 in operation, and will use data and feedback this summer to adjust the program.

“As the programs develop we spend time with (stakeholders) and adjust it to make sure it’s meeting the needs of the particular municipality,” said Schafer, who added the company has already added a “no-ride” zone (where the scooters turn themselves off) at the city’s transit terminal.

The company says data into July shows 1,500 Hatters are considered to be “active users,” having paid for rides more than three times in a month.

About 9,000 total transactions have been recorded, and each ride averages between 20 and 25 minutes. That is comparable to other centres where Bird operates.

“It tells us that it’s beyond a novelty … but it’s rapidly becoming a mode of transportation,” said Schafer.

City officials have said they will examine the relative success of this summer’s activity as well as public feedback.

“A lot of communities find that there is a change management process communities go through when they adopt this sort of new technology, and this is something we’ve really seen here,” said Will.

“Some people’s initial response is they think it’s great, some people are questioning it, or wondering how do you operate them, or access them. We’re in the adoption phase and we’ll see what’s next.”

Committee members spent nearly 40 minutes discussing the program.

Chair Coun. Ramona Robins said the report is positive, but had questions about enforcement of traffic laws.

Schafer said residents who observe dangerous driving can report the time and location to the company.

Coun. Allison Knodel said she’s gone for rides and has heard questions, but largely positive feedback.

So far, operating zones only encompass areas north of Seven Persons Creek, and she would like to see it expanded.

“I think everyone is loving it,” said Coun. Alison Van Dyke. “I haven’t ridden one myself, but I enjoy seeing others enjoying them.”

Customers spot a scooter or search for one on a phone app, then pay for time and take off to leave the vehicle at their destination.

The company has a staff of seven in Medicine Hat, driving to retrieve the scooters, charge them, maintain them, then placing them at strategic locations.

That’s raised questions about clutter or culpability.

The use of technology control also helps enforce no-go or no-park zones, said Schafer.

“The credit card keeps ticking,” he said. “So that’s an obvious financial disincentive for leaving it (in a no-park zone).”

The scooters are programmed to cut out or slow in off-limit areas. They are also governed to reach a top speed of 20 kilometres per hour (about the rate of a brisk bicycle ride), and are also technologically restricted from entering high-traffic roadways, such as the Trans-Canada Highway, Parkview Drive, Kingsway Avenue or Maple Avenue.

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