The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is getting its first resort-wide electric bike-share program.
In a report to Whistler council at the July 5 meeting, staff confirmed Evo Evolve, the electric bike-share service created by the British Columbia Automobile Association, will launch a three-month pilot project in the municipality.
The pilot will soft launch at the end of July with an official launch in August and run until October. Initially, there will be 20 bikes at launch, which will rise to 60 by the end of the pilot project.
The goal of the bike-share program is to get Whistlerites out of their cars, reduce emissions in the community, and lessen the burden on parking in the village and at the municipality's parks.
RMOW general manager of resort experience Jessie Gresley-Jones noted that many lakefront parks have seen a massive increase in usage in recent years, with about 179,000 people using the resort's four major parks in 2021.
Many of the parks’ parking lots are now beyond their capacity, with some lots experiencing overflows onto nearby streets.
There will be bike-share stations set up in Whistler Village (at Whistler Olympic Plaza, Gateway Loop, Day Lots 2 and 4 and along the Fitzsimmons Connector) and at the Meadow Park Sports Centre, as well as in Rainbow and Lost Lake parks and several neighbourhoods that will make it so riders can conveniently get from Point A to Point B on their daily commute.
The bikes will come with a $1 unlocking fee per trip, and cost 35 cents a minute. A 15-minute ride is expected to cost about $6.25.
There will be overage fees for people that use the bikes for longer than an hour to encourage people to share the service for shorter commuter trips.
The pilot project sparked a discussion at the Whistler council table, with some raising concerns about the potential effects it will have on local bike rental businesses in the municipality, a handful of which came to the council meeting.
Currently, Whistler has 25 bike rental shops, most of which are based in the village centre and primarily catering to the visitor market. Several Whistler bike rental shop owners signed an open letter to council laying out questions and concerns business owners have with the pilot project.
The questions touched on safety (intoxication, trail etiquette, speed management, etc.), how the trial’s success will be measured, potential environmental impacts and fairness for existing operators, among other things.
“I’m in favour of an e-bike-share program and look forward to the day when we have a successful program in place. To achieve this efficiently, safely, and in a manner that is fair to existing local rental operators, we need to have an effective and well-thought-out trial,” said Whistler Sports Rentals owner William Naylor.
“Currently, I don’t think we have this. I think the proposed trial is not fit for purpose and poses serious safety risks. I am also of the opinion that the trial is being rolled out in a manner that is not showing due respect to local businesses.”
Local business owners only learned of the pilot project on June 28.
Naylor believes the short notice for the pilot is unfair to the local business owners, and that the municipality should postpone the pilot by several months to give local operators more time to adjust to a potential market change.
“Local rental operators have to order their bike fleet over one year ahead of when they typically receive it. We have planned for over one year for the business that we will undertake in the next few weeks. As seasonal businesses, we have a relatively short window in which we turn a profit, typically July and August,” said Naylor.
"I don't mind losing some revenue if it helps us achieve our climate goals. I think that is more important than my bottom line. I think [delaying the pilot] would give us time to adapt and would be appropriate.”
Councillor Jen Ford suggested keeping the Evo Evolve bike program out of the village centre entirely, citing the program's effect on the rental businesses.
“We're all sensitive to the impacts that COVID has had over the last two and a half years and how that's affected our local employees, and it's super challenging," Ford said.
The program has some clear benefits, particularly around affordability, she added.
"It makes a lot of sense, and that's why I can support this if it starts and ends in compact ways,” Ford said.
“I would rather the starting point be a residential area that has the density to support it and the parks rather than in the village where there are many bike rental businesses that depend on this as their bread and butter.”
Coun. Ralph Forsyth directed his comments on the project directly to the bike shop owners in the audience.
“I'm hopeful that it's not going to take business away from anyone. If it does, we won't do it again. It's a test. It's a couple of months. I understand that it's a couple of critical months for bike shop owners; July and August are prime time. So I'm mindful of that. It's a test. We're trying it out,” said Forsyth.
“The intention was never about cutting anyone's grass. I know as a small business owner, if the municipality got involved in the vending machine business, I might get upset about it.”
But the municipality doesn’t learn unless it tests, “and I think this is an opportunity to do that,” said Mayor Jack Crompton.
“I'm pleased to see a station in alpine, a station in Alta Vista, a station in Creekside, I believe those are dense areas, and they will serve movement around the valley,” he said.
“My hope is that the operators in this town will engage with this pilot, they'll work with our team, and we will come up with evidence that we can take forward to make good decisions about how we can see fewer car trips, rather than fewer bike rentals.”
In the view of Coun. Arthur De Jong, the pilot offers a much-needed opportunity to significantly increase bike usage in the municipality, which is essential if Whistler wishes to reduce its carbon emissions.
"The bottom line is to meet our climate goals, we need to greatly increase bike use,” De Jong said.
“I sometimes say we need to become the Amsterdam of the mountains, but people confuse that with pot culture, so I'll call it the Copenhagen of the mountains, where I believe 62 per cent of all commutes are on bikes. That's the level that we need to reach for to really nail our climate target. I hope that we can engineer a win-win here with our small business operators. It's important to drive more use.”
The RMOW will use metrics and lessons learned from the pilot project to inform a future request for proposals (RFP) to establish an ongoing permanent bike share system in Whistler. An RFP process will be rolled out this fall, with the aim of implementation in summer 2023.