Halifax e-scooter enthusiast hopes more people hop on micromobility trend

If you’re looking to get around fast in downtown Halifax but you don’t want to drive or bike, chances are you can find electric scooters for rent on the Halifax waterfront.

But thanks to recently announced changes to the province’s Motor Vehicle Act, one local business owner says you could soon see the portable, battery-powered rides everywhere.

Max Rastelli, owner of HFX e-Scooters and Segway Nova Scotia, said he believes large “micromobility” companies have been holding off coming to Halifax until now. 

“Perhaps next year or some point in the future, I would expect to see more operators in the city and competition in the city,” said Rastelli, adding there could be “thousands of scooters on the streets” if big-name operators were to set up shop in Halifax.

Rastelli said he hopes legislation introduced Tuesday to permit the safe operation of e-scooters on municipal roadways will encourage more Nova Scotians to embrace the concept of micromobility — using lightweight vehicles such as bicycles or scooters, especially electric ones, as primary or secondary modes of transportation.

Rastelli says his company’s e-scooters go on 35,000 to 40,000 rides every summer. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

E-scooters weigh between 13 and 27 kilograms and generally have a small motor and lithium battery that powers the vehicle for two to four hours. Speeds range from 20 to 45 km/h.

Buying an e-scooter can set you back $200 to $2,000, while the cost of renting largely depends on how long they’re in use.

Rastelli charges $1.15 to unlock and access the e-scooter and about $18 per hour of use. Riders must be 19 or older and wear a helmet on the scooter, which comes with a bell and headlight. Riders are urged to give pedestrians the right-of-way and use bike lanes where possible.

Prior to the recent amendments, the Motor Vehicle Act made no mention of e-scooters, something Rastelli said has made it difficult for customers and vendors alike when it comes to understanding where, when and how fast people can ride e-scooters in the city.

The new amendments — part of the province’s efforts to modernize and eventually replace the act — also include setting a minimum age of 14 to use e-scooters, as well as enforcing a maximum speed of 32 km/h.

“Government supports the safe use of alternative transportation options that are low cost, energy efficient and convenient,” said Deborah Bayer, a spokesperson for the province’s Department of Public Works, in an email.

“We are responding to the growing interest in e-scooters by putting rules in place that keep everyone safe.”

E-scooters parked by The Garden restaurant in downtown Halifax. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Municipalities will be able to choose a lower speed limit and decide if e-scooters will be permitted on roads, sidewalks or shared sidewalks in their areas.

“The amendments to the [act] will provide municipalities with authority to create bylaws for the use of e-scooters. Some may choose not to allow their use. This is enabling legislation to provide municipalities with flexibility to respond to their residents,” said Bayer.

Dr. Michael Schwandt is a doctor with Vancouver Coastal Health, an organization that partners with the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals. He’s worked with municipal partners in the Vancouver region when they implemented e-scooter programs.

He said it’s important to outline clear safety precautions, such as not driving e-scooters while intoxicated, and create designated riding locations. 

“Consultation between different parts of government with health programs is very important. We can create education materials, we can share information on what the actual risks are,” he said.

Rastelli said he hopes to expand to other locations, but as it stands now, e-scooters are not allowed to go across the Macdonald Bridge between Halifax and Dartmouth or on the ferry — something he hopes to see change when the new amendments are finalized.

“We’re very open to expanding beyond the peninsula,” he said. “We will see if that happens this year.”

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