Have you ridden an E-scooter? The electric stand up scooters are surprisingly nimble and you can wear a dress, carry a purse or a backpack with them, and they can get you to a destination fairly quickly. Gordon Price has written about the early proliferation of them in Tel Aviv, and how they quickly filled a transportation niche.
I first rode these darlings of micromobility in Zurich, where they are now highly regulated, with mighty fines if you do not “dock” them in the appropriate place post ride. Zurich was an early testing ground for European operators of these scooters.
While they are fast and fun, there have been issues. E-scooter riders use sidewalks, bike lanes and the road, can cause injuries if you fall off, and can be hazardous to other road users. In Paris regulation was enforced in 2019 to mitigate e-scooter crashes and deaths. There scooter users must be 12 years of age and older and the devices are banned on sidewalks.
In Great Britain over 30 districts allow the e-scooters to be rented, including six boroughs of London which has just started to trial them.
Last week in Paris two women on an E-scooter crashed into and killed a pedestrian. The pedestrian’s head hit the sidewalk and the victim went into cardiac arrest. The e-scooter riders did not stop after the crash.
While E-scooters are praised as being good for the environment and presumably stop people from driving cars, their speed (which can be up to 50 km/h), their platform and lack of protection can contribute for serious injury and deaths for riders and for other street users.
In British Columbia the City of Kelowna has undertaken an E-scooter trial. As reported by Travis Lowe in Global News, the e-scooter pilot project has been operating for a month and it has not been the seamless roll out as had been envisioned.
There are four rental E-scooter companies operating in Kelowna and there are concerns that E-scooters are being used as a novelty, not as a basic form of transportation. And then the head of orthopedic surgery at Kelowna General Hospital bluntly told Global News he had to cancel orthopedic surgeries to take care of e-scooter crash injuries.
Dr. Steven Krywulak pointed out that E-scooter use was pricey for taxpayers in terms of the health care costs, and pointed out that in one weekend the hospital had treated seven people for injuries from rental E-scooter mishaps. The age of E-scooter patients at the hospital are 14 to 30 years old, and injuries are to collarbones, ankles and wrists.
“I think the public needs to know that these things are fracture machines. We had to cancel three joint replacement surgeries for people who have been waiting because of all these fractures.”
There’s big money to be made in e-scooters as I have previously written.They are cash cows for the E- scooter industry with the investment in installation in cities being paid back in just a matter of a few weeks. Horror stories of E-scooters littering sidewalks in cities have emerged, as different E scooter businesses vy for the quick E-scooter dollar.
Kelowna has a fairly successful trial of E-scooters when confined to the 12 km. trail system between UBC Okanagan, downtown Kelowna and Okanagan lake. But in a study done in Paris it was found that if scooters were not available 47 percent of people would have walked, 29 percent would have used public transit, and 9 percent would have biked, with only 9 percent saying they would have used a car.Should we be encouraging E-scooter use if it is taking people away from walking and cycling and using transit?
Of course the owners of the E-scooter companies in Kelowna are scrambling, offering a safety course for riders, and strangely reassuring potential clientele that “safety improves dramatically” after they have ridden the E-scooter a while. But that platitude does not help the individuals with collarbone, wrist and ankle breaks, nor the national health care system treating the injuries, or the taxpayers that eventually pay for it.
The City of Kelowna is now reviewing their use within the jurisdiction. You can see the Council report on that here.
There is also a staff presentation that has international statistics suggesting that the crash rate for E-scooters is similar to that of bicycles. That is different from the letter presented by the Medical Health Officer, who said E-scooter evaluations in the United States and Australia showed 90 percent of injuries impacted riders, and 70 percent were either fractures or head injuries. The rate of head injury was double that of cyclists. Statistics from Alberta Health Service suggest that there is one injury for every 1,500 rides.
How do you balance the fun of E-scooter use with the sobering ramifications of liability and injury? And should these masters of micromobility be confined to specific pathways and use?
The last word goes to Kelowna’s Head of Orthopedic Surgery, Dr. Krywulak:
“I don’t think there’s a safe way to do it. You can tell people to be careful as much as you want, but people are gonna do what they’re gonna do.”
This YouTube video below discusses E-scooters in Kelowna.