E-scooter operators introduce cognitive test among features aimed at addressing critics

· The Pulse

Riders who use shared e-scooters and e-bikes in Edmonton may have noticed a new test that encourages them to reflect on their level of intoxication before taking to the streets.

"We do have the reaction test at night, which is, I think, a good way to give people a chance to do the right thing and ride safely late at night," Lime spokesperson Jacob Tugendrajch told Taproot.

The new test is one of several changes to micromobility devices in Edmonton, now that they're back on the streets. This follows an extended delay in rolling out the service earlier this spring. In May, the City of Edmonton announced Bird and Lime had been selected as vendors for its e-scooter and e-bike shared permit for the next three years. In June, Neuron was added as a third vendor. The new features could be joined by others in the works aimed at discouraging behaviour that breaks rules and creates negative perceptions about the industry.

In 2024, users who rent a micromobility device from Lime, as well as from Bird and Neuron, can now be asked to prove their cognitive abilities. Each of the three vendors has a mini-game that tests reaction time and can lock you out of the app if you fail.

Jenny Albers, general supervisor in the City of Edmonton's traffic operations department, told Taproot that the city didn't ask for any specific safety features in its request for proposals, but did look for a suite of features. "With the contracts with the vendors, we do give them flexibility for them to choose around what technologies and tactics they want to use," Albers said.

In August, the city asked the public about shared micromobility devices like e-scooters. It found that people who don't use shared e-scooters and e-bikes are most concerned about where the devices end up being parked, riders using them on sidewalks, and riders who pass on shared-use paths. Administration told Taproot in April that the e-scooter rollout was delayed partly due to a more comprehensive bidding process based on that public feedback.

The vendors have developed other new safety features. Bird Canada is working on creating a rider score for its users, spokesperson Austin Spademan told Taproot. "It's basically taking all of the data to see if you're a good rider or a bad rider," he said.

Sensors in the Bird devices can detect if a rider is weaving or frequently braking too hard. Spademan said the first step would be education through the app, reminding the user of the rules. "But there is a future where, as Bird Canada, we might actually exit a rider from our service if they're not able to adhere to the rules of the road," he said.

Bird is also working on technology to detect when users may be double riding. If you and your buddy hop on a scooter, Titanic-style, it may in the future be able to tell that your usual weight has approximately doubled, and the app would give you a warning.

"When we talk about safety, we're really getting to the level of getting the (users) to follow the rules appropriately, having preventative measures in place from riding under the influence, and on top of that preventing that visually bad behaviour that gives the industry a bad name — and double riding is a great example of that," Spademan said.

Lime e-scooters in downtown Edmonton.

Shared e-scooter and e-bike users may notice new safety features when renting the vehicles this summer. (Mack Male)

Neuron, a Singapore-based company that's in Edmonton for the first time in 2024, has some unique safety features — notably, a helmet included with each scooter. Isaac Ransom of Neuron said the company incentivizes helmet use by offering a discount to riders who upload a selfie wearing a helmet. Neuron scooters also feature downhill braking assist and can detect if the scooter tips over (the scooter will ask the rider if they are OK).

Neuron users can also share their location with loved ones through the app. "In the service industry, it's a really helpful feature to make sure people are getting home safe," Ransom said.

The other big rub for those who don't love shared scooters is where people park them. Each of the companies has restricted parking zones. When users end their ride, they must take a photo of where they've parked their vehicle. Neuron and Bird said they use augmented reality during that photo audit to determine if the unit is parked appropriately.

Spademan said Bird's technology uses the phone camera to scan the area and can detect distances to an accuracy of five centimetres. "Say, as an example, if there's an Oilers game, you want certain parking areas … and you don't want any (devices) anywhere near the entrances. You implement this type of technology and you can very tightly control your game days."

Lime's local team, meanwhile, will analyze the parking photos, field complaints, and fix parking problems when they arise, Tugendrajch said.

Sidewalk riding is another common complaint about e-scooters and e-bikes. Spademan said Bird devices are equipped with a chip that can tell the difference between the sidewalk and the road. "GPS can be up to 10 metres of accuracy, depending on a whole bunch of satellite conditions that can exist … but basically, we can get it down to that one-metre level, which is a huge improvement and makes a world of difference in terms of level of control of our devices."

Tugendrajch said Lime's rider data shows gaps in Edmonton's active transportation network, where riders may feel forced to ride on a sidewalk. Lime then shares that data with the city. "A lot of our riders seem to be looking for a protected bike lane on this route — maybe there's a way for (Lime and the city) to work together to build a case for new and improved bike infrastructure on a route," he said.

Spademan said shared micromobility devices are "light-years ahead" of where they were a few years ago. "I think we're at the point to be honest, where the people that don't like us are never going to like us, but they're losing all of their arguments each year that goes by," he said.

The city's new contract allows vendors to fine users for bad behaviour. Representatives for each vendor said enforcement would start with education and warnings before fines and potential bans.

City administration said one of the benefits of the three-year contract is that shared e-scooters and e-bikes can be available to Edmontonians much sooner than they were in 2024. The vendors didn't share any specific criteria — like a stretch of good weather or the completion of street sweeping — that would trigger the rollout. Rather, each year will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.