Growing pains hindering growth of e-bikes
TORONTO - While politicians and entrepreneurs complain that some governments have been too slow to act on allowing the use of emission-free, power-assisted bicycles, others say it's just a case of growing pains.
The use of power-assisted bicycles, widely referred to as "e-bikes," has risen exponentially since Transport Canada amended its regulations in 2001 to allow Canadians to have battery-powered motors on their bicycles.
John Stonier, spokesman for the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, said the popularity of the bicycles in British Columbia -- one of the first provinces to allow their use -- is skyrocketing, with an estimated 10,000 or more riders.
"And that's increasing very quickly," said Stonier, adding that current fuel prices, coupled with growing concerns over emissions and climate change, create a "perfect storm" to encourage e-biking.
While some provinces, such as B.C. and Quebec, were quick to allow the bikes on the roads, others have been slower to follow suit.
One of the laggers is Ontario, where e-bikes are currently legal for use -- provided they meet a set of standards -- during a pilot project ending in the fall of 2009.
A Toronto-based entrepreneur complained Friday that government rules are thwarting widespread use of e-bikes, and consequently, cutting into sales as well as people's options to use cleaner, more environmentally friendly forms of travel.
Larry Dawidowitz said people are wary of purchasing the bikes he has for sale, which range in cost from about $1,500 to $2,200, because they're worried the provincial government could ban the use of them after the pilot project expires.
He said further problems have arisen because while riders don't need insurance or licence plates, the bikes have confused police who mistake them for scooters, which are considered motorized vehicles.
Every time an e-bike rider has been charged for failing to have insurance or licence plates, the charges have been thrown out, he said.
"The ministry really has to realize that the scooter style is working, the open frame is not," Dawidowitz said.
He was joined at the Ontario legislature Friday by NDP consumer critic Andrea Horwath, who called on the government to allow electric cars and bikes on roads -- except highways -- immediately.
She said the pilot program should immediately be made a permanent commitment to give retailers and consumers certainty.
"What's preventing these from proliferating ... is that the marketing is hesitant because at the end of the day, who knows how the pilot project will end up?" Horwath said.
Brian Hazard, a retailer in Comox, B.C., said there were problems with police mistaking the e-bikes for motorized vehicles when they were first introduced.
But he said police eventually caught on, and he now hears few complaints from riders, who have been helped by manufacturers putting on plates identifying the vehicles as a power-assisted bicycle.
Juergen Weichert, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Ottawa, said he supports the pilot program in Ontario and is confident it will progress to full approval for the bicycles.
The problem, said Weichert, lies in communication. Neither police nor the public have been properly informed about the bikes and don't always recognize them, he said.
"These are police who at 300 paces can tell the difference between a Camaro and a Mustang," Weichert said. "Why can't they tell the difference between a scooter and an electric bike? It's just one of interest and communication.
"That is why you've got people getting tickets."
Under Transport Canada's regulations, e-bikes must not go faster than 32 kilometres per hour or have a motor that exceeds a total output of 500 watts, and must be equipped with handlebars and pedals. They are legal in eight Canadian provinces.