The Waterloo region will be making 500 electric bikes and electric scooters available to use starting next Friday.
Announced early this week, the new program from the Region of Waterloo runs from April to the end of October 2023. Neuron Mobility, an e-vehicle company with similar programs started in Calgary, Ottawa, Brampton and Red Deer, were selected as the partners in Waterloo region.
Electric bikes and scooters are battery powered and propel automatically without much effort from riders. Neuron's vehicles come with a limited time per ride before the battery needs to be recharged at a city parking station.
"We look at it in the context that provides balance in our community," Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic said at the latest planning and works committee meeting on Monday.
"We lived in a society that was primarily car culture and now we're moving to a society that has a balance of modes of transportation. Both for environmental and health reasons," he added.
'This is not a pilot'
According to the Region of Waterloo, riders can rent their choice of an e-bike and e-scooter at virtual stations installed in the downtown core. People around the downtown sections of Cambridge and Kitchener can also borrow an e-bike or e-scooter outside transit stations.
Despite the limited window from April to October, the region's commissioner for transportation services, Matthieu Goetzke, told CBC News the program isn't an experiment.
"This is not a pilot. We're really launching it and not just testing it to see how it's going to work," said Goetzke.
Pay as you go, or tiered subscriptions
Both e-bikes and e-scooters can be rented at the same rates, said Isaac Ransom, head of corporate affairs for Neuron Mobility in Canada. The entire service is run through the Neuron app which lets users find, rent and subscribe to tiered unlimited ride passes for e-vehicles.
Riders can pay as they go by unlocking an e-vehicle for $1.15 and riding at 35 cents a minute. A weekly pass for unlimited rentals costs $33. There is also an option for a three day pass at $25.
Users can also subscribe to Neuron's monthly pass at $89, with 90 minutes of daily ride time.
Riders learning to use the e-vehicles can also get discounts via their app, he added.
"If you wear a helmet and park properly, you're gonna get some incentives. If you go through our education training regularly, you will also be receiving some credits and incentives to make your ride more affordable," he said.
Deeper discounts will also be available to a few Grand River Transit (GRT) programs. Members of the affordable transit program can get reduced rental rates and use a combination of GRT and e-vehicles on single trips, Goetzke added.
"The affordability, flexibility plus all the safety pieces that are really built into the tech Neuron is bringing along are creating the conditions for success for this system," he said.
The e-vehicles can also be returned to a different parking spot which can be located through their app. According to Neuron, parking areas across the region are within 100 to 200 meters and off the streets. Riders can use any of these stations to swap out available charged e-bikes and e-scooters for an allotted time.
'We're working to map out the city'
Last summer, the Region of Waterloo cleared the use of e-vehicles on regional roads. But riders can only zoom on most city roads with posted speeds at 50 km/h or less. Riders have to stay to the right side as much as possible and keep off sidewalks and highways.
"We're working to map out the city and find which areas are the safest and drop speeds in certain areas," Ransom added.
Every e-scooter and e-bike is also equipped with a number of features for riders with mobility and accessibility needs. This includes noises to let people know an e-scooter is approaching. Neuron's vehicles can alert blind and partially sighted pedestrians when stationary.
"You can't ride it through a shopping mall, certain parking lots and parks with high pedestrian traffic. So there's areas that we're going to take into consideration and ensure that people and riders remain safe."
All riders also have to wear a helmet in the Waterloo region. The Waterloo Regional Police Service also enforces fines for e-vehicles under the Highway Traffic Act.
More e-vehicles are expected to be available across 150 stations, Neuron added. While the program could likely continue in Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo after its first five months depending on interest.