More confusion over e-bikes in Vancouver after police issue warning to dealership

The ongoing confusion surrounding e-bikes that look like scooters continues in Vancouver, where police recently told a dealer that some of the models he sells are now illegal because of a landmark ruling in B.C. Supreme Court.

Steve Miloshev, owner of a company that imports Motorino e-bikes and runs a flagship store in Vancouver, says he has sold thousands of models the Vancouver Police now consider illegal. They're e-bikes that look like mopeds or motorcycles, but have limited speed and small pedals attached so they fit the province's legal definition of a motor-assisted cycle and therefore don't require a driver's licence or insurance.

"I feel that there is some kind of negative attitude towards these bicycles," Miloshev said.

The Vancouver Police Department confirmed that a member of the Targeted Enforcement Team visited the Motorino store in Vancouver last week to advise staff about the change in legal status for some of its e-bikes.

The VPD visit puts into question what will happen to the thousands of people in B.C. who currently ride e-scooters without a licence or insurance. Miloshev says some of his Vancouver customers have started to tell him they've been fined hundreds of dollars for doing so.

The officer's visit to the store comes on the heels of a recent decision in B.C. Supreme Court, which upheld fines against a man riding a Motorino XMr e-bike in Surrey without a licence or insurance. Miloshev says the officer came to his store with copy of the decision in hand.

"He told us that we cannot sell the bikes that cannot be powered by pedaling," he said.

The VPD didn't respond to questions about which specific models it now considers illegal, or if it has also advised other dealers and manufacturers of similar e-bike models of the change.

Pedal power

In the B.C. Supreme Court decision, the judge ruled the pedals have to be the bike's main source of power for it to qualify as a motor-assisted cycle.

Referring to a 2012 decision in B.C. Supreme Court, Justice Robert W. Jenkins said the electric motor on the bike is supposed to "supplement, not supplant, human propulsion." Defendant Ali Ghadban testified that he had never used the pedals on his Motorino XMr. 

Ghadban says he intends to appeal the ruling. Miloshev says he intends to seek intervenor status for the appeal and he expects some of his customers will do the same.

'Something has to be done'

In Parksville, Motorino rider Luke Charie says he'll be hesitant to ride his XPi into Vancouver to visit friends and family until there's clarity on his bike's legal status.

"Something has to be done because this impasse is going to get worse," Charie said, referring to the ongoing confusion about the legality of e-bikes that look like motorcycles

Lukie Charie

Miloshev says he intends to continue selling his Motorinos as motor-assisted cycles because, as far as he's concerned, they fit within the province's legal requirements. 

He points out that even ICBC's website says e-bikes should be capable of being propelled by pedals, "but it is not necessary to always be pedalling."

On its website, B.C.'s public auto insurer says some motor-assisted cycles, which have pedals, may look like mopeds and scooters. ICBC doesn't provide coverage for them. 

Legal landscape 'always shifting'

The province has said it intends to review the Motor Vehicle Act in order to take new electronic modes of transportation into consideration. 

Meanwhile, RoadSafetyBC, the lead provincial government agency responsible for road safety in B.C., said in a written statement that "government continuously monitors court decisions to inform next steps, preserve the integrity of legislation, and help keep everyone on the road."

"The technological and legal landscape around these modes of transportation is always shifting."

RoadSafetyBC said ICBC can only sell insurance for cycles that meet provincial and federal classifications.

Alternative to public transit

Miloshev says the VPD's visit is particularly troubling given that COVID-19 has made his Motorinos more popular than ever now that people want to get around while maintaining a safe distance from others.

Such is the case for Dave Leblanc, who says he recently spent nearly $3,000 on a Motorino XPb with some accoutrements so he could get to work without having to cram onto a busy bus. 

"I'm scared of getting on these buses," Leblanc said, adding that he has no intention of paying any fines, should officers issue him any.

"I'm trying to do my best. I'm doing something that's environmentally conscious. I'm not wasting gas. And I'm keeping my social distance."