On a warm, sunny day in Calgary’s inner-city communities, you’ll be hard-pressed to step outside without spotting someone zip by on an electric scooter. In 2019, the City piloted its shared micromobility program to provide short-term-rentable e-scooters to the downtown core and surrounding areas. Since then, Calgarians have made nearly 1.3 million trips on e-scooters each year.
Four different e-scooter companies took to the streets over the course of the pilot program. In May 2021, the City announced it had chosen Bird and Neuron to operate here long-term. The following month, Bird announced it was moving its Canadian headquarters to Calgary. Bird’s chief operating officer Alex Petre says that, along with the strong local business community and emerging tech economy, Calgarians’ enthusiasm for e-scooters was a factor in the decision to relocate here. The numbers tell the story: Calgarians have ridden nearly 4 million kilometres on Bird scooters alone since 2019. “Calgary is at the forefront of Canadian cities in terms of [scooter] integration into daily life and not just something used for fun, but how you get around,” says Petre. “There’s no place like Calgary in terms of embracing and loving the scooters.”
So, what makes Calgary such fertile ground for e-scooters? Really, it’s a combination of many things — from abundant bike lanes and paved pathways (the city has the most extensive urban pathway network in North America), to frequently sunny skies, infrequent transit and a spread-out urban footprint that creates distances between destinations that are just a little too far to walk. It makes sense that e-scooters — which are cheaper than ride-shares or cabs, more convenient than transit and faster than walking — would fill the gap. There are also environmental benefits: Petre says Bird e-scooters have replaced 900,000 car rides since they came to Calgary. Since 2019, Bird and Neuron have also created 150 employment opportunities for Calgarians.
The rise of e-scooters hasn’t been problem-free. The past five years have been a learning curve, says Andrew Sedor, mobility initiatives lead at the City of Calgary. From parking locations to slow zones to traffic and pedestrian interference, the micromobility program has had to develop a set of rules for e-scooters to peacefully coexist in our urban environment. “It was a new transportation technology that just showed up,” Sedor says. “[We needed] to create a culture and practices of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable.” E-scooters are not the only micromobility options out there, either: Despite the fact that an early run of shareable e-bikes by pilot program provider Lime was ultimately deemed unsustainable, both Bird and Neuron added e-bikes to their fleets last season.
Both Sedor and Petre attribute the success of the program to the collaboration between the private e-scooter companies and the City employees behind the initiative.
“I think it has served a really good niche within the city,” Sedor says. “Maybe [someone] took transit to work, and they say, ‘hey, it’s a nice day. I wouldn’t mind scooting home.’ I think it fills that need, too.”