E-scooter operators remain bullish on Edmonton region

· The Pulse

Despite bankruptcies in other countries and bans in other cities, micromobility operators say shared e-scooters and e-bikes aren't rolling out of the Edmonton region any time soon.

Bird filed for bankruptcy in December after its stock nosedived. But Austin Spademan, a spokesperson for Bird Canada, said the American arm of Bird is a separate entity, so operations north of the border won't be affected by the filing. "We've been profitable as an organization, actually, since our inception," Spademan told Taproot. "We're actually expecting to grow on the Bird Canada side in 2024."

Bird operated in 2023 in St. Albert, Leduc, Spruce Grove, and Edmonton. Spademan said riders took more than 250,000 trips across the region in 2023, and ridership grew by 15% from 2022 to 2023.

But it hasn't all been happy stories for shared e-scooters and e-bikes in the Edmonton region. Lime and Bird were the only two companies present regionally in 2023, while in previous years there were more. Spin was available in Edmonton and St. Albert in 2021, but it pulled out of Canada before the next summer. Roll Technologies had scooters in St. Albert in 2022, but declared bankruptcy in 2023. Lime has also contracted in the region — it had scooters in St. Albert in 2022, but the company said it decided to pull out to focus on Edmonton.

The company is open to returning to St. Albert in the future, Lime spokesperson Jacob Tugendrajch said.

Lime had e-scooters and e-bikes in 2023 that were only available in Edmonton. Still, the company said it logged 920,000 trips in 2023, nearly triple the amount of rides in 2022, and saw particularly high demand across the summer months. "Edmonton was one of the top cities not just in Canada, not just in North America, but in the world this summer," Tugendrajch said.

Tugendrajch added that while some Canadian cities have been patient and methodical when figuring out the right regulations, Edmonton has been ahead of the curve. "I think Edmonton, in particular, is leading the way, showing that there's this huge demand for shared e-bikes and shared e-scooters in Canada," he said.

Edmonton's protected active transportation infrastructure and dedicated e-scooter parking areas are part of what make it attractive to micromobility companies, Tugendrajch said.

Lime e-scooters in downtown Edmonton in 2020.

The micromobility industry can be fickle, but operators who have a presence in the Edmonton region say they aren't going anywhere. (Mack Male/Flickr)

Elsewhere in Canada, the micromobility shift has faced snags. Montreal banned e-scooters after a 2019 pilot project, citing mass noncompliance with its rules, but they were allowed in a limited area in Parc Jean-Drapeau in 2023. Nearby suburb Laval allowed them in 2023. E-scooters are banned in Toronto, though in 2023, Toronto city council asked its administration to design an e-scooter pilot program. Vancouver is set to make a decision on what company it wants to run its shared e-scooter program, and will require the e-scooters be docked in set stations instead of parked anywhere.

Both Bird and Lime expressed optimism for the future of Canadian micromobility, including for new companies joining the ecosystem. "The eyes of the international players are on the Canadian market," Spademan said. "And so I think with all of that attention, and the fact that a lot of our big cities don't have a program yet … there's going to be more innovation on year-round ride ridership."

Tugendrajch said it's important to look at the big picture when assessing micromobility.

"The thing that is important to know about the industry right now is that while the industry as a whole is sort of shifting in a lot of different ways, the demand from riders has never been higher globally," he said. "Micromobility isn't going anywhere, it just might take different shapes and forms as you know, some companies make difficult decisions about where they're at."

Edmonton is currently going through proposals from micromobility operators and has yet to announce which companies will be present in the city for the summer of 2024.

City council requested administration prepare a report about micromobility operators that includes feedback from residents and how that feedback has informed the city's contracts with operators. Council is tentatively scheduled to receive that report in early May.