Over the past few months you may have noticed a change on Toronto’s streets — an evident shift from traditional cars towards much smaller gas powered or electric vehicles. Gas-powered scooter sales are up, and now that electric bikes and scooters were authorized in Ontario as of October 2006, these power-assisted bicycles (PABs) are becoming popular as well. The increase in popularity is partially due to rising gas prices, but also due to due to some distinguishing features that set scooters and PABs apart.
In October 2006 the province of Ontario launched a 3-year pilot project to test ride power-assisted bicycles. Ever since, retailers have setup to sell the bikes, and sales have built steadily. Among other features, the PABs do not require a license and do not need to be plated or insured (although riders must be over the age of 16 and wear an approved bicycle helmet). The average cost is between $1,000 and $3,000, and the PABs require about $ 0.20 of electricity for every 45 to 70 km travelled. The batteries are also easy to charge as most PABs have removable batteries that are rechargeable at home or at work with an adaptor. Without a gas-powered engine, PABs are also virtually silent, creating a very peaceful ride.
In September 2007, Larry Meade opened of Silent Rider with a showroom near the St. Lawrence Market that sells PABs. Meade says he has sold over 120 of them since he opened, and he is hoping that Ontario will adopt permanent legislation to allow PABs on the streets after the three-year pilot is over in 2009. He sees the potential of PABs to reduce gridlock in the city while providing an environmentally friendly transportation alternative. With permanent legislation, Meade feels that more people will buy the bikes, and notes that other provinces such as British Columbia have already approved PABs on the streets.
The PABs have not been without controversy. Many cyclists on muscle-powered bikes are frustrated that the larger PABs — electric scooters — are being ridden in bike lanes and pathways in parks. They argue that the electric scooters’ bulk and weight pose safety risks to other cyclists, and that there needs to be greater clarity as to what qualifies as a PAB, and what should be considered a full-grown scooter. However others have argued that the electric scooters are appropriately labeled as a PAB because of their limited maximum speed of 32 km/h (which is much slower than traditional scooters).
Gas powered scooters are also more popular this year. Canadian Scooter Corp. in Toronto has had an increase in sales of 25 % over last year. Canadian Scooter Corp. is the exclusive importer and distributor of Piaggio brand scooters in Canada, and credits gas mileage as one of the biggest reasons for the jump in sales. Piaggio produces the popular Vespa line of scooters, which can run for approximately 220km on as little as $ 8 worth of gas (depending on the model and tank size). Although gas powered scooters require licensing and insurance to operate, and are more expensive than PABs, they are also much faster than PABs and can run for much longer before being refueled (allowing for longer distance trips).
In an attempt to be more environmentally responsible, the Canadian Scooter Corp. has also recently partnered with Environmental Defence and the Carbon Reduction Fund to launch a program that offsets an estimated 3 years worth of carbon emissions for each new Vespa sold during the remainder of 2008.
Photo by Roger Cullman