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Council eyes permanent e-scooter program

St. Albert city council will soon decide whether or not shared electric scooters are permanently available every summer after the city's multi-year pilot program wrapped up at the end of 2022.
If council approves administration's proposed operating framework for a permanent e-scooter program, companies like Bird and Roll will no longer be limited to a 60-scooter fleet. FILE/Photo

St. Albert city council is looking to refine rules for electric scooters after administration recommended making the program permanent. 

The city's multi-year pilot program wrapped up at the end of 2022. On March 14, city staff presented a final report to the standing committee of the whole recommending the program be made permanent, although with fewer regulations.

Administration proposed removing the pilot's five-company maximum and fleet restriction of 60 e-scooters per company, according to a council backgrounder prepared by city business licensing inspector Monty Killoh.

Killoh wrote the rationale for recommending fewer regulations is to save staff time, resources, and expenses in program administration. 

“This option would permit shared e-scooter companies to operate within St. Albert through an administratively curtailed and less-regulated approach than the pilot,” Killoh wrote.

The pilot report says a team of city staff spent between eight and 10 hours per week from May to October managing the program, ensuring regulatory compliance, and handling resident complaints. As well, the report says the city spent $6,000 for the seasonal use of software for data collection and digital program management. 

The report says under the recommended low-regulation framework, the city would no longer use the software, which was only partially subsidized by the business licence fee revenue ($3,756) collected from the e-scooter companies last year.

Other e-scooter regulations such as designated parking areas and "no-go zones" would remain in place under the operating framework being recommended by administration.

During the March 14 meeting, Coun. Sheena Hughes submitted a notice of motion seeking to add an enforcement mechanism to allow the city to issue fines to companies not complying with conditions included as part of their business licences.

Hughes' motion did not include exact fine amounts; rather the motion directs administration to draft options for council to consider in a future meeting.

In an interview, Hughes said she supports the e-scooter program being made permanent, although she wants to see the current regulations remain in place. 

“I think the (regulations) need to stay in place for the success of the program for at least one more year,” Hughes said. 

“I'm comfortable with it resuming as a permanent program, but under the understanding that the parameters that we put in place are what need to stay in place.”

Coun. Ken MacKay told the Gazette he was in favour of the program moving forward with reduced regulations, and council could address any problems arising from the proposed changes. 

“If it results in just being overwhelmed with the number of e-scooters, then I might have some challenges with that because a free market doesn't mean a free-for-all market,” MacKay said. 

“I don't believe the troubles that we thought might manifest are there, or certainly are not something that we can't overcome.”

Likewise, Coun. Wes Brodhead said he expects the e-scooter companies to maintain their equipment and brands, regardless of the proposed regulation changes.

“I think market forces (favour) those who do a really good job of maintaining their equipment and providing a good product and those who don't won't (survive),” Brodhead said. “In this respect I'm a free market kind of guy — let the market and those who have a good customer service experience prove their worth to the community.”

During the March 14 committee, both Brodhead and Coun. Mike Killick expressed interest in raising the e-scooter speed limit to 20 km/h, compared to the 15 km/h limit during the pilot. 

The committee heard from administration a speed limit change would require an amendment to the city's traffic bylaw.

Killick, during discussion, also said he plans to submit a notice of motion seeking to remove the mandatory helmet requirement for e-scooter use.

According to the city's data included in the final report, between May and October last year St. Albertans took nearly 20,000 individual e-scooter trips, and travelled just over 50,000 kilometres. A collective 425,936 minutes, or almost 296 full days, was spent riding the e-scooters. 

Each available e-scooter was used an average of 0.85 times per day, and the average trip length was 2.6 kilometres, the report says.

Prior to voting on administration's recommendation, the committee heard council will discuss changes to the traffic bylaw in an upcoming meeting to debate the motions expected to be put forward by Hughes and Killick. 

Administration's recommendation passed, with Coun. Shelley Biermanski opposed.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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