Electric scooters, or e-scooters, are a familiar sight and a common form of transportation on the streets of China, Europe, and the US, and the two-wheeled vehicles have officially made their debut in Canada this year.

Roll Technologies Inc., whose CEO is UTSC alum Richard Cao, is an e-scooter share service permitted to operate in the City of Kelowna, B.C., the first Canadian city to allow e-scooters to roam its streets.

The ease of using e-scooters, compared to other modes of transportation, is what makes Cao confident that they will provide a viable and efficient alternative in urban transportation in Canada. 

Customers can rent an e-scooter from an app, pick up the vehicle off the street, and immediately begin weaving through the streets and zipping through traffic, all the while reducing car traffic and pollution.

Commuters can cut minutes usually lost in waiting for transit, tourists can avoid complex transit maps and directly visit the city’s landmarks, and students can skip the long walks across campus.

At the end of the ride, users can conveniently discard their e-scooters on the street, unlike bikeshare services, which require customers to dock the bikes at a station after each use.

When asked how e-scooters are expected to fare in a Canadian market, Cao was optimistic that the later introduction of the e-vehicles, compared to other cities, has made regulators more cautious and will allow for safer outcomes.

“[The] Canadian market is a little bit behind compared to the American market or European markets,” said Cao. “That’s a good thing because [regulators] can learn a lot from the data and problems [European cities] had.”

“We are also having a lot of discussions with [government] regulators, and are providing them with the data that we have to find the best way to regulate electric scooters,” said Cao.

Despite the efficiency of e-scooters for their users, the two-wheeled e-vehicles have raised questions from an operational standpoint, specifically on the potential cluttering of streets, safety concerns, and durability of motorized scooters. 

Roll Technologies plans to tackle these concerns with new strategies that distinguish them from other competitors.

“On day one, we wanted to do things differently,” recalled Cao. Instead of relying on crowdsourcing and paying gig workers to pick up and charge the e-scooters, Roll hired their own operational staff to locate, recharge, and maintain the scooters.

“By the end of the day, every scooter will be taken back to the warehouse for maintenance [and a] safety inspection before charging,” said Cao. The scooters will then be placed in high-demand areas, which are identified by their back-end data. 

Roll has also implemented multiple safety features to protect riders from injuries. According to Cao, research has identified that 70 per cent of injuries occur in the rider’s first ten minutes on an e-scooter. 

Focused on the safety and quality of their products, Roll has adopted a system that will identify first-time users and lock the e-scooters into a lower speed during the beginning stages of each ride. Roll also plans to dispatch emergency and patrol teams that will survey users around popular areas during the first two months of the launch, and provide instructions on riding and parking for first time users.

“We don’t want to just leave the scooters on the street and just capture the market share. We actively want to work with regulators and try to find the best way [of] regulation,” said Cao. “We want to be responsible for our customers and for the government.”

As for what is next for Roll, Cao said that the company is focused on bringing e-scooters to major Canadian cities. Roll has a contract with Calgary in the works and is setting its sights on Toronto for its next market.