With cargo e-bikes gaining popularity as a low-carbon approach to urban delivery, and Toronto signing on to a provincial pilot program, the Pembina Institute is looking at the local bylaw changes that will be needed to keep a new, emerging municipal delivery system safe and effective.
Cargo e-bikes are an efficient option for personal and commercial deliveries “and can be approximately 60% faster on average at delivering goods compared to vans, and without generating tailpipe carbon emissions and pollution,” Pembina says in a report issued last month. But the analysis points to the need for regulation to address “emerging issues regarding vehicle and pedestrian safety.”
After the provincial transportation ministry approved its five-year cargo e-bike pilot program, municipalities like Toronto will need to draft their own bylaws to accommodate e-bikes, says the report. But because e-bikes are a relatively new alternative to cars and vans, there is still uncertainty—and inconsistency—on municipal policies and regulations to cover different model specifications and permitting requirements, as well as variations in municipal cycling infrastructure and parking.
The report finds cargo e-bike models vary based on bike length, width, number of wheels, and weight capacities, and cities are using those differences to create regulatory categories. “Many jurisdictions in the United States have adopted the People for Bikes (an American bike advocacy organization) Model Electric Bicycle Law for state usage with the three classes of e-bikes.” Cities in Europe categorize by power specifications to regulate bikes above 250 watts, but exempt any with lower capacity.
Jurisdictions also have different regulations for where e-bikes can operate. So far, most cities allow e-bikes access to most streets and cycling tracks. Permitting e-bikes on urban streets makes cargo e-bikes more attractive to businesses by reducing operational costs, since “less time is spent idling in traffic congestion.”
Parking parameters are also important to maintain e-bike competitiveness, and “there is a need to set some rules to facilitate cargo e-bike parking and to ensure that cargo e-bikes can safely and efficiently park by the entrances of buildings.” Options include allowing e-bikes to park in any commercial space by exempting them from meter payments, as New York City does, or allowing “cargo e-bike parking for personal and commercial use in all bicycle parking facilities,” like in Ottawa.
Permitting and insurance regulations are essential to address safety and liability issues. New York’s permit system “will more or less be the payment method for curbside usage, though [the city doesn’t] intend on making the permit fee costly,” the report says, while Chicago requires licences for commercial e-bike operators. Chicago also has a commercial general liability insurance requirement of US$300,000, while cities like New York, Seattle, and those in the EU exclude e-bikes from insurance obligations.