The rise of scooters and e-bikes in Toronto

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

26 comments

  1. This is a great advantage to the city in terms of gridlock and traffic reduction. Additionally, electric assisted bikes can get more elderly into cycling.

  2. This is great news. More people should get scooters. Scooters get in less accidents, are cheaper, get better gas mileage, have less of a repair bill, have cheaper insurance premiums, are better for the environment than cars. Simply put, they make sense.

    Best,
    Kyle Park

  3. I’m worried that the government will always try to grab money from PAB, just for the money. Which will in turn close up the market. That’s what happened with the moped, it was increasing in sales until the government stepped in with regulations.

  4. While I think the idea of the PAB is a good one, it’s only good as long as PAB operators are willing to allow NAB’s (Non Assisted Bikes), equal use of the space, having some idiot on a PAB going 32km/h up a large hill, in the bicycle lane pushing bicycles out into traffic, because they are only able to do 15km/h up the same hill, would create some ugly scenarios. They also need to be required to follow the rules of the road, just like NAB are supposed to, but sometimes do not.

    As a cyclist (NAB), I think the province should change the law, and require all bicycle riders over 16 to carry photo ID, this way a constable can stop you, and ask for your ID, before handing you the ticket for blowing the stop sign. The province could make available an identity card, for those people without drivers licences, who either have the old red-white health card, or would rather not use it as ID.

    Eventually I think PABs will be allowed permanently, but probably with some limitations,

  5. I have a lot of dislike and disdain for the e-bikes in the bike lanes; and just because they’re “legal” on a trial basis, doesn’t make it right. http://www.ibiketo.ca/ has a couple of posts with a lot of comment upon them; go to the comments per post part for two threads.

  6. My major concern with the e-bike (although I would love one) is the driving skills of the owners. I have seen e-bikes on sidewalks, running stop signs, weaving in and out of traffic, etc. There should be some sort of licensing or requirement to do a written test (perhaps with bikes as well). People don’t take them very seriously as road vehicles and they go fast enough they could be dangerous (although I have to admit I am more concerned about unsafe car driving — did you know you can block traffic with your emergency lights to get a coffee at Tims, or pass on both sides of another vehicle on a straight line, or going backwards up a one way street is OK because the front of your car points the right way?)

  7. I suppose it’s nice to see more people taking forms of transportation other than the private automobile. However, while I don’t want to tar all scooter and moped riders with the same brush, I am regularly frustrated by people who treat these vehicles like bicycles.

    Put simply, the only thing that belongs in bike lanes are bicycles – end of story. The same goes for our bike ring posts. It burns me to see scooters (electric or gas) locked to one of the few pieces of infrastructure the City provides specifically for bicycles, to say nothing of the extra space they take up on our sidewalks, making more tripping hazards for pedestrians. Ring posts are for bicycles only and regardless of how energy-efficient a scooter might be, I firmly believe it should be parked somewhere else. I have approached numerous scooter/moped riders over the summer to talk about this (including an electric scooter rider who nearly forced me out of the bike lane into a truck while I was riding on St. George) and I hope that others do the same. We need to continually speak up for the most environmental sustainable vehicle of all (other than our feet) – bicycles.

    If some of the new sales in scooters and mopeds are replacing car trips then that’s nice. I would be interested to know how many new scooter owners previously took most of their trips by car, transit, etc. Regardless, the little space in the city that is reserved for bikes is reserved for bikes, and that’s that. Besides, if Vespas are so good on gas then the owners should be able to afford to pay for parking on the street or in parking lots. I hope that others feel the same way. Either way, when winter comes I’ll still be riding my bike while all those Vespas sit in someone’s garage.

  8. It’d be nice if institutions start offering more scooter training courses and classes. The only one I can access so far is at Humber College. The cost is also remarkable for a one-day course.

  9. BC is so far ahead of Ontario in so many ways…One is they have way less negative thoughts pertaining to necessary advancements that will help save this planet. We do not have to like something to recognize it is necessary…One less car on the road is a huge start…especially for short commutes.

    VANCOUVER, BC – May 15, 2008 – The Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA) congratulates the City of Vancouver for new by-laws passed this week that will encourage and enhance electric bicycle ownership, and lead the way for other communities to do the same.
    Vancouver City council has approved changes to the off-street bicycle parking by-laws effective with all new buildings going forward. The new by-laws address much needed security for bikes. The new by-laws include provision for charging electric bikes in bike storage rooms in condos and other retail / commercial bike storage lockers. VEVA applauds this forward thinking and small but important move.
    Surveys of local e-Bike stores indicate that there are now more than 10,000 electric bikes in Greater Vancouver with a dozen stores selling these increasingly popular electric bikes. These e-Bikes need to be charged, much like a cell phone or laptop computer and use regular 110V receptacles. The problem has been that bike storage lockers in condominiums do not have any electric outlets. e-Bike owners have resorted to hauling heavy batteries up the elevators to their residences to charge them. The lack of plugs has been an obstacle to some, but this new by-law will create the infrastructure needed.
    “e-Bikes are a practical transportation alternative, especially during the summer months, as commuters can use them without having to shower at the end of their ride – they are relatively effortless, yet have all the benefits of being outside in the fresh air and sunshine” commented Don Chandler, VEVA President. “With the current price of gas and maddening traffic snarls why wouldn’t you choose this as a regular option for urban commuting? Vancouver has an excellent network of bike paths and bike lanes.”
    e-Bikes are one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transportation in BC with zero emissions when charged from BCs near carbon neutral grid. Commuting by eBike makes Vancouver’s hills effortless to climb and each one that replaces a car prevents up 2000 to 4000 Kg of GHGs per annum from polluting our climate. This represents almost 1/3 of an individual’s carbon footprint.
    VEVA hopes that strata councils take note of this need and take individual initiatives to upgrade existing bike lockers to accommodate eBikes and eScooters to stay competitive with new building facilities. The new by-laws will be prepared by city staff, developers notified and educated, before they come into effect after a one year grace period.

  10. How are people being forced out of the bike lanes by PAB’s or any other type of vehicle? Are these people yelling at you to move aside??

    I casually ride my bike downtown and the only time I need to leave the lane is when another vehicle/bike is stopped in the bike lane or when I want to pass.

  11. Hamish, cyclists have a lot of nerve complaining about sharing their space with scooters, as there is no shortage of cyclists who ride on the sidewalks and otherwise engage in risky behavior around pedestrians.

    It has happened more than once that I’ve stepped off a curb and nearly been hit by a bike that was running a stop sign. Cars don’t do that.

  12. Andrew, we cyclists need that nerve to face the onslaught of what Hamish calls “the cartillery.” Let’s not have this devolve into a “damn those scofflaw cyclists!” thread.

    What I’ve learned from the threads Hamish referenced is that I would like to have e-bikers on my side of an argument. They “make like lawn bowlers.”

  13. Scooters can park for free in municipal on-street parking (which is an excellent idea), so there should be no need for them to park on sidewalks.

    Part of the problem with the PABs is that the pilot laws were intended, essentially, for bicycles with some modest power assistance, but are being used by what are really electric full scooters with pointless pedals attached so that they fit into the law.

    Fortunately, this is just a “pilot”. Hopefully the result of the test will be that the province refines and tightens its definitions. I would recommend that cyclists write to the Ontario Minster of Transportation with their concerns so as to shape the result of the pilot project.

  14. United we stand….Divided we fall.
    We need more bike lanes to accommodate both styles.
    The problem is not the scooter style e-bikes, the real problem is pollution and gridlock. Bicycles and E-bikes offer a partial solution, especially for short commuters. The fact that there are literally millions upon millions of people riding them shows the demand is there. Battery technology, as well as solar is in its infancy. We needed an alternative and we have one.
    Embrace these alternatives for the greater good…Other countries have.

  15. Why are people complaining about e-bikes. I own one and I own a 21 speed bike. Maybe we all should require insurance and a license. The amount of cyclist that run red lights, drive on the sidewalk which is ILLEGAL, DRIVE PAST OPEN STREET CAR DOORS, stop complaining people and get a life. I hope electric bikes are here to stay, they are much safer than a normal bike and they are green.

    Again maybe we all should have a license and there should be hefty fines for all those who drive on the sidewalk. or run red lights.

  16. Everyone wants safe streets.

    Here are the priorities in vehicle safety:
    1) It is a sin to injure or kill yourself in the operation of a vehicle.
    2) It is a worse sin to injure or kill a passenger.
    3) But the CARDINAL SIN is to injure or kill some innocent third party.

    Everyone who wraps themselves in steel and plastic and glass and straps themselves in behind crush zones and air bags transfers 100% of the risk of their travel to those on foot and on two wheels.

    EVERYONE who gets the hell out of four wheels and on to two wheels makes our pavements safer for EVERYONE ELSE.

    We are the result of millions of years of “product development” based on survival of the fittest.

    Today we are smothered in laws designed to protect the weakest and the dumbest. This is not a good strategy for the survival of our species.

    Ppl will misbehave on foot and they will misbehave on wheels. If they behave in a reckless manner, DARWIN will sort them out. It’s how the REAL world works!
    ;->
    Tks
    Lock

  17. “EVERYONE who gets the hell out of four wheels and on to two wheels makes our pavements safer for EVERYONE ELSE. ”

    Living in a dream world Mr. Lock. The number of pedestrian/cyclist conflicts is very high in this town especially in the business district. I don’t worry about being hit by a car when crossing a pedestrian green on Bay Street, but I do worry about being taken out by a red-breaking bike, which has almost happened twice in the last year.

  18. I’m with Lock on this one Mark. In Ontario, E-Bikes especially the scooter style have been giving a bad rap for no good reason. They are a smash hit all over the world with many years of research and track record. All throughout Europe and Asia, not to mention western Canada they are a hit with a large part of the population who otherwise would be driving a car. For short jaunts these not only seem to be practical but a necessary evolution of transportation. It does not have to be so black and white (car or bicycle) An alternative form of transportation is needed that is both economical and sustainable. It is here. Don’t fight the future.

  19. You are right. Bicycles that do not follow the rules of the road should be banned.

    They should not be driven on sidewalks except where the municiple by-laws allow it. All should meet the requirements of the law by being equipted with a horn or bell. None should be driven to exessive speeds. They should obey the speed limits and be ticketed where they break the laws.

    Now let’s get away from the 12 speeds ripping down the sidewalks, paths and streets and focus on the legal requirements for e-bikes.

    Most E-bike riders are responsible riders. The bikes are outfitted with the safety equiptment from purchase. When is the last time a “regular” bike was sold with the mandatory HORN or BELL?

    E-bikes, by law, are not able to go faster than 32km/hr unless pedalled. The power assist must be incapable of assisting past this speed. I know that there is a large amount of misinformation out there. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!

    Riders must wear a helmet (at any age) and be over 16. They must also follow the rules of a bicycle on the road, riding along the right hand side of the road. This is a difference that I notice with Bike Couriers in particular. Yes, lets ban them too…

    Don’t misunderstand though. I am not bashing these people. They risk thier lives and livelihood every time they get on the road. Let’s look at this closer though.

    Some of thier biggest risks come from driving in the middle of the road because ignorant drivers push them off the side of the road, and don’t give them any consideration. Drivers have become insulated and as a result pose more of a problem than someone on a bike path, following the laws.

    E-bikes have the capability of giving people back thier freedom to get around and be part of the work force. They are a good alternative for people that want to save money and the enviroment.

    Don’t take my word for it though. Go to a dealer and test drive one. Talk to people that have done thier homework and make an informed decision.

  20. I live in Vancouver and we have had e-bikes now for about 6 years, several years before other provinces. Our province seems to be a little more open to alternative transportation options, be it a bicycle, car, skateboarding or e-biking. I have noticed on the threads and in the forums that Ontario residents, especially cylcists seem to have it in for e-bikes. I find it peculiar that Ontario seems to be so negative. The scooter style are very popular here and we never went through what you folks are going through. Glad I live out here where people are a lot more receptive to people’s choice.
    You guys are brutal with each other….Lighten up all of you. Viva La Difference

  21. I’m starting a new job at Yonge-&-Eglinton and have to travel about 15km to get there from Scarborough. I’ve read all the comments and am encouraged that we’re having this much discussion (even though BC is so enviably ahead). I used to take the GO to get downtown in less than 20 minutes and have never considered the car for commuting. More discussion can only be good for people taking to two-wheelers and for the city’s gridlock.

    Seems to me that sharing the bus lanes for e-bikes that move at 30- or 35km/h+ should be okay. Below that speed, stay on the sidewalks. As Sean Harris said, let’s all lighten up a little.

  22. I see no reason cyclists (like me) and scooter style ebikers (like me) can’t share. I agree that scooter style ebikes should not be on OFF-road bike paths but should be okay on bike lanes. Riding both, I know from experience that I am safer on my scooter ebike. When I an cycling, I run red lights, I ride on the sidewalk sometimes. I don’t signal my turns or stops. I would never dream of riding that way on my ebike. I never ride on the sidewalk, it has signal lights and I obey all signs just the same as a car.
    The Ontario Gov’t needs to realize that this is a good idea. As I see it, nobody loses. I have no problem registering my ebike and plating it. I even don’t have a problem with insurance so long as it is at a good price. I have looked at quotes for small gas scooters and it would cost me over $100/mo. Not acceptable.
    I don’t save alot of money ebiking to work because my commute is very short and direct but every km driven in a gas guzzler is more pollution. Ebiking (and cycling when my knees are good) is good for the environment and that’s what really counts.

  23. I agree with Matt. They only go 32 km per hour which is similar speed that a fit cyclists can attain, and we don’t have to wear that rediculous outfit. I am a graphic artist and I wear a suit to work. When I arrive I am not all hot and sweaty. My ride is under 8 km and this fits the bill perfectly. If these required insurance and licence they will all end up in the landfill and I will be forced back to drive. I too come to a complete stop, unlike the cyclists that whiz passed me with attitude, shouting rediculous comments in their rediculous outfits, as they weave in and out of traffic, hop up on sidewalks and disobey about a dozen laws on their way to work.

  24. Hi All
    Great discussion with many points of view.
    I have a mountain bike, folding commuter bike and am going to buy an ebike. Since ebikes have speed limiters preventing speed in excess of 32/kms an hr, I don’t see the issue with sharing bike lanes. Anyone experience near misses with a bike courier? I ride my bicycle on the waterfront trail often and many times, riders on racing bikes are flying past me exceeding a safe speed limit for the path. I have seen them dangerously dodge, geese, inline skaters & pedestrians crossing the bike lane so how is it that an ebike is any more dangerous. Inline skaters can take up the the space of the entire bike lane too, no one complains about that and somehow ebikes are the target for negativity. I also have a car and pay insurance and license fees. I think I have the right to purchase an ebike that has a positive impact for the environment and is deemed compliant, thus there should be no backlash. Perhaps if more people used alternative “green” transit we could work together to find solutions for all the issues as a collective rather than bashing alternative methods of travel. We need to learn to co-exist. Comments???

  25. In my humble opinion, what we need is a great media campaign from our government.

    People need to be shown how to cycle safely, and be reminded of the methods and habits on a regular basis, in a friendly way.

    People need to expect to see cyclists with them in traffic when they’re driving cars and when they’re walking, and if the cyclists are behaving well, the campaign will reinforce their acceptance.

    So much public service advertising is directed through media observed during “the commute” – by public transit or private vehicle … I think it might be wrongly (but easily) assumed that train-riders and “motorists” are never also cyclists.

    FYI I have bussed, driven, walked, cycled and moped’ed through this fine city and find I can hold no “group” of any people who chose any one of these different modes to be generally at fault.

    Currently I ride my 10-speed to work daily and take TTC if it rains, but drive to further-away destinations when time/distance/weather constraints require.

    Think of it though – a city where everyone is aware of how they’re expected to behave in traffic…

    Thanks!

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