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Electric unicycle riders are being fined for not having insurance. But the devices can’t be insured in B.C. | CBC News

Gabe Kwok says he’s been riding his electric unicycle around the streets of Vancouver for more than a year.

But recently, he said, a police officer pulled him over.

Kwok says the officer told him it was illegal to ride the electric unicycle (EUC) on a public road and he was handed a ticket for $598. Except the violation wasn’t for driving an EUC, but instead for operating a vehicle without insurance.

However, in B.C. it’s impossible to get insurance for an EUC.

“Giving out a ticket for not having insurance on something you can’t get insured is kind of nonsensical to me,” said Kwok.

His experience isn’t unique, according to one industry insider who says he has witnessed an increase in EUC riders being ticketed — mostly for driving without insurance — adding it highlights the need for infrastructure and clearly defined regulations around the fast-growing form of transportation.

Gabriel Kwok rides his electric unicycle in Vancouver's Chinatown.
Gabriel Kwok says he chose to ride an electric unicycle because it offered an efficient, economical and compact form of transportation. But he says it also landed him a ticket of almost $600. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

Sidewalk violation only $81

Bradley Spence opened eevee’s, a personal electric vehicle retail store, more than two years ago. He says EUCs are soaring in popularity, equalling sales of electric scooters at his shop.

“I’m not surprised because when I got on one for the first time, it was an incredible feeling and it seemed like the most practical way to commute in an urban city,” Spence said.

Electric unicycles are self-balancing devices, where a rider stands on either side of a single wheel and controls the speed by leaning forwards or backwards.

WATCH | Electric unicyclists on the streets of Vancouver:

Electric unicyclists ride around Vancouver

Electric unicycles are becoming increasingly popular forms of transportation around Vancouver, but local officials say it’s illegal to ride them on public roads.

Over the past six months, Spence says he’s seen EUC riders ticketed at least 10 times.

While most of the tickets have been for driving without insurance, he has also seen a rider ticketed for driving on a sidewalk. But that violation comes with a much cheaper ticket of $81, which he says sends a dangerous message.

“It’s a lot more incentivizing for us riders to ride on the sidewalk, but we’re of course advocating against that because it’s far more dangerous for pedestrians,” Spence said.

Bradley Spence stands inside of his store, eevee's, which sell personal electric mobility devices.
Bradley Spence, co-founder or eevee’s, says he has seen an increase in electric unicyclists receiving driving tickets in Vancouver. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

In B.C., the Motor Vehicle Act does not permit people to use devices such as solowheels, hoverboards or electric skateboards and unicycles on public roads, including bike lanes and sidewalks. 

But, given the growing popularity, Spence is calling on the province to create the legal framework needed to support all personal electric vehicles.

“These things are here to stay. You can try and slow down change, but you can’t stop it,” he said.

Police join calls for greater clarity

Matthew McCormick is another rider who says he was ticketed for driving without insurance while riding his EUC in downtown Vancouver.

He also supports the push for clearer guidelines, especially around insurance.

“I know a lot of riders would love to get insurance. It protects us as much as it protects other people,” said McCormick, who plans to fight his ticket in court.

That push for greater clarity has the support of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), which admits “there is a lot of confusion” when it comes to personal electric vehicles.

“There are rules and the rules are set in place to keep the riders and other people on the roads safe,” said VPD Const. Tania Visintin.

“But definitely more discussion needs to be had between us, between the city, between ICBC just on how we can better co-ordinate moving forward.”

Pilot projects

While EUCs are not allowed on public roads, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure launched a three-year pilot in 2021 that permits the use of electric kick-scooters. There are currently 12 communities participating, including Vancouver.

The ministry says the pilot so far shows scooters are a popular form of transportation and have resulted in few injuries, infractions or complaints.

The ministry also says it is exploring new technology.

In a statement, the ministry says it recently amended the Motor Vehicle Act “to provide new tools to enable the safe use of emerging, clean technologies including delivery robots, designated personal mobility devices, and new and different classes of motor-assisted cycles (e-bikes).” It did not specifically address EUCs.


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