The NCC is holding public consultations about the use of electric-bicycles and motorized scooters on its paths and bike lanes, so now is a good time to take a closer look at this issue.
First of all, it's important to realize that the definition of "electric bicycles" or “power-assisted bicycles” used by various governments is very broad, and includes motorized vehicles that have very little to do with cycling. Here's a
breakdown of what comes within the definition of a so-called “power-assisted bicycle”.
1- Motorized scooters.
These are large battery-powered motorized vehicles that look like full fledged scooters and often weight as much as 165 pounds (75 kg). In fact, the legal definition states that they can weight a staggering 265 pounds (120 kg.) These scooters are equipped with pedals only to meet the legal definition of a "power-assisted bicycle". The pedals are awkward to use and very ineffective at moving the scooter forward. They have been described as "cosmetic pedals", and many owners remove them from their scooters.
2- Electric bicycle (e-bikes).
These tend to look more like conventional bicycles, but most are designed and built as specifically as electric bikes. Unlike the motorized scooters, they can actually be pedaled around (although not as efficiently as regular bikes). Because of how they are built, they are capable of being used exclusively as electric vehicles on an on-going basis. Indeed, from what I have seen, most people tend to operate these bikes as electric vehicles, and may only use pedals if the battery happens to run out of juice.
3- True power-assisted bicycles.
There are some "true" power-assisted bicycles out there. Many of these are based on regular bicycles that have been fitted with a small electric motor (usually in the front hub). With most of these it is necessary to pedal the bike before engaging the electric motor. Their motors are ideal for providing some extra power for people who have a hard time going up hill or pedaling against a strong headwind. These bike can also be operated under power alone, something which will help get people home if they get tired after a long ride.
It is also important to realize that none of the electric bikes/scooters described in the three groups above are currently allowed on the NCC pathways. However, the NCC is now proposing that the electric powered bikes in groups 2 & 3 ("power-assisted bicycles that are physically similar to conventional bicycles") be allowed on its pathways. It is also proposing that electric bicycles from all three groups (including the motorized scooters) be allowed on NCC bike lanes.
It's unclear what criteria the NCC is using to make its proposals. Whatever the case, it would seem that any type of electric powered bike that is used primarily as a motorized vehicle have no business using the pathways or bike lanes. Allowing them to do so would be defeating the very purpose of these pathways and bike lanes, which to provide route that are free of motorized vehicles.
On the other hand, a strong case can be made that "true" power-assisted bicycle described in the third group should be allowed to use the pathways and bike lanes. These types of bikes allow people to go cycling who might not otherwise be able to do so without the occasional power assist or the ability to motor home if they get too tired. In other words, these power-assisted bikes could be very handy for cyclists getting on in years, or suffering from medical or physiological conditions.
Click here for more about the NCC public consultations process.
Click here for more about Ontario's regulation about e-bikes and electric scooters.
Click here for a photo of a battery powered motorized scooter.