Three years ago, a downtown bike shop sold between three and five electric bicycles per month. By the end of 2019, however, the shop couldn’t keep them in stock, selling up to 10 weekly.
“The popularity has grown massively,” Cycle Logic Bikes manager Sean Daley told KTW, estimating his shop has sold between 100 and 150 e-bikes to local residents.
Similarly, in recent years, more Kamloops residents have purchased electric vehicles.
And, as electric transportation increases in popularity, the city wants to support the use of electric vehicles and electric bicycles, commonly referred to as EVs and e-bikes.
City of Kamloops sustainability supervisor Glen Cheetham said the city wants ideas from residents to encourage use, by way of an online survey and an upcoming in-person information session.
“The strategy is going to serve as a road map to help transition our community to electric power transportation,” Cheetham said.
The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the city’s Transportation Master Plan, large quantities of greenhouse gases are produced by fossil-fuel-burning vehicles, which, despite growth in the use of electric technology, continue to make up most of Kamloops transportation.
In creating an EV and e-bike strategy, the city has created an online survey, available on its Let’s Talk website until Feb. 28, and will hold a public meeting on Feb. 26, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., in the Valley First Lounge at Sandman Centre.
The survey asks residents the area of town in which they live, as well as whether they currently drive or ride an EV or e-bike and, if not, what challenges prevent them from doing so.
Separate surveys were created for businesses and institutions and developers, home builders and realtors.
It is difficult to know at this point how many e-bikes are on the streets of Kamloops, but Cheetham said they are increasing and Daley said that is due to improving technology and infrastructure, such as Xget’tem’ Trail connecting Sahali and downtown through Peterson Creek.
E-bikes range in price from $2,000 to $16,000, based on quality and class (some bikes have throttles like an electric scooter, while others require pedalling and function more like a bicycle with a boost) and are ideal for commuting through hilly and spread out locations like Kamloops, where steep terrain or lengthy commutes can pose barriers to those who don’t feel comfortable in bike shorts.
Daley explained that non-cyclists can traverse Xget’tem’ trail on an e-bike, despite the incline.
A class one e-bike — which does not require a licence or registration through ICBC, but must be operated by someone age 16 or older — multiplies peddling power by nearly four times.
“What that means practically is that, basically, a non-cyclist can go and ride up that [Xget’tem’] hill,” Daley said.
“Their heart rate will be elevated. They’ll probably be sweating on a hot summer day, but they can do it. Whereas, if we were to send them out on a conventional bicycle, maybe they wouldn’t be able to make it up. And, if they did, maybe they would be fully exerted by the time they got up there.”
The Xget’tem’ multi-use pathway was opened by the city in the fall of 2018 and city statistics have shown it to be getting significant use.
According to Daley, that pathway is a sign the city is moving in the right direction when it comes to cycling infrastructure, leading to more e-bike purchases.
However, he also points to work that needs to be done.
For example, once riders reach the top of Xget’tem’, they arrive at the busy intersection of Summit and Notre Dame drives.
“Unfortunately, at the top of the path, it dumps you in a bad sort of area,” Daley said.
A city councillor who traded in her vehicle last summer for an e-bike — taking advantage of a private Scrap-It program in B.C. to receive an $850 e-bike rebate — agrees with that assessment, including of the area above Xget’tem.
Kathy Sinclair regularly travels to and from city hall from her North Kamloops home in about 10 minutes’ time and said her experience on an e-bike, including adventures she has documented on social media through frosty winter months, have been positive overall.
However, Sinclair said, she will not ride in some areas of Kamloops, such as Aberdeen, due to traffic.
As a result, the city councillor who promotes alternate modes of transportation has two ideas to improve the e-bike and cycling experience alike: increasing connectivity, with more multi-use pathways, and providing year-round courses to the public, teaching safe and defensive cycling habits.
Sinclair noted that not often do Kamloops cyclists ride amongst vehicular traffic, unless they are highly experienced.
“In terms of what the city can do, the biggest thing that we can do is work on safe cycling paths,” she said.
“For Kamloops, rather than going the Vancouver route, where you have separated bike lanes, having the multi-use paths, like the Xget’tem’ Trail and the Rivers Trail, have been excellent,” Sinclair said.
“I think that’s where a city our size and how spread out we are, that’s where we’re going to see the most success.”
Last year, council approved additional spending to accelerate active transportation projects and Sinclair is keeping her eye out for an update from staff to council, expected in the next couple of months.
Meanwhile, e-bikes are only one part of the discussion. Electric vehicles are also increasing in popularity in Kamloops.
The New Car Dealers Association administers a provincial incentive to purchase an electric vehicle through the Clean Energy BC program.
Association president and CEO Blair Qualey said that since the program began in 2015, the number of approved applications through the Clean Energy BC program specifically out of Kamloops has climbed.
In 2015, five Kamloops residents were approved for the provincial incentive. In 2016, 12 people were approved. In 2017, there were nine. In 2018, there were 58 and, last year, there were 121 approved applications.
According to the latest statistics available from ICBC, 76,000 vehicles were registered in Kamloops in 2017, including commercial, passenger and recreational vehicles. Of those 76,000 vehicles, 547 were hybrid and electric vehicles.
Qualey said the number of electric vehicles rose in 2019, due to increasing incentives.
In addition to provincial government and private Scrap It incentives available to B.C. residents, the federal government last year added an incentive to go electric.
Qualey said up to $14,000 is on the table for B.C. residents who scrap their old gas guzzler to purchase an electric vehicle.
Qualey said approved applications through the Clean Energy BC program have doubled year over year, noting 10 per cent of all vehicle sales in the province are electric vehicles, leading the country on a per capita basis.
He noted most of those sales occurred in urban centres.
“It’s great to see communities like Kamloops embrace it as well,” Qualey said.
Sinclair’s council colleague, Arjun Singh, has also been trailblazing with electric transportation, having purchased an electric vehicle three-and-a-half years ago.
Singh said one major barrier to EVs in the past was the up-front sticker shock. At one time, Teslas dominated the market, but its vehicles’ price tags were out of reach for the average commuter.
Now, big brands are catching up and offering lower cost options.
Singh said that between declining EV prices, government incentives and low operating costs, the math works out in 2020. Still, so-called “range anxiety” continues to be a hurdle.
That may be evidenced by ICBC numbers. In 2017, Kamloops had 490 hybrid vehicles and 57 electric models.
Singh said one improvement to encourage electric vehicles would be support for increased fast-charging stations.
Outside of EV owners charging their vehicles at home, 18 charging stations are available throughout Kamloops, the vast majority of which are private.
A website tracking charging stations geographically on a map, plugshare.com, shows several hotels, for example, offer electric vehicle charging stations for guests only.
Singh would like to see fast charging stations added to Riverside Park, downtown, on the North Shore and in the Tranquille Corridor. He said businesses would benefit from having a charging station in front of their stores.
“If you have a coffee shop that has an EV charger or diner or something, you really feel it’s a great service,” Singh said.
Part of the problem with private charging stations right now, according to Qualey, is that BC Hydro has a monopoly on charging for power in the province, meaning businesses that supply power to the public are not allowed to charge for it and do so at their own expense.
The BC Utilities Commission is working to address that problem and Cheetham expects the “Wild West of EVs” will move toward charging at a rate equivalent to 30 cents per litre.
“You can do it as a warm, fuzzy for people,” Qualey said. “But it’ll make a huge difference when people will actually be able to turn it into a business case.”
EV drivers may be disappointed to hear that the days of free charge-ups may be limited, but compare that rate to the current price of $1.25 per litre for gasoline in Kamloops.
Also, it may result in more readily available charging stations.
Qualey said municipalities around the province are exploring electric vehicle and e-bike strategies, similar to Kamloops.
“What we’ve always said to municipal governments is basically what we said to the provincial government and the federal government — you’ve got to have these incentives in place, whether it’s for the vehicles themselves or to put chargers in their homes or workplaces,” Qualey said.
“Charging infrastructure needs to be where people live, work and play. It can’t always be at the town hall, it’s got to be in places where people actually go, like in community centres and shopping malls.”
Cheetham said the city will also be looking at how to accommodate so-called “garage orphans,” people who live in multi-family buildings like apartments and who may not have access to charging stations at home.
Cheetham said policy could encourage or require all new developments to be EV ready, meaning that all or a certain number of parking stalls would be equipped to allow for EV charging.
It costs much more to retrofit existing buildings than to install them at the time of construction, he noted.
The city will also consider e-bike storage, due to the cost to purchase an e-bike, and is working to electrify its own fleet, which consists of about 400 vehicles. purchase tickets, go online to vancouverinternationalautoshow.com/.