Vancouver’s newest car share: no driver’s licence required

We spoke with VeloMetro CEO John Stonier about its bike-car hybrid, Veemo

March 2, 2016

By Trevor Melanson / Photo: VeloMetro

It was a big enough deal that even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mayor Gregor Robertson showed up Tuesday morning for the unveiling of Veemo, Vancouver’s newest car share. But while local company VeloMetro considers Car2Go and Evo as competitors, its vehicles aren’t like those other ones that Vancouverites have become so familiar with. In fact, legally, Veemos are bikes. In practice, well, that’s another matter. We caught up with VeloMetro CEO John Stonier (pictured below in the yellow shirt) hours after the announcement to figure out just what the heck a Veemo is—and what Vancouverites can expect when they hit the streets in 2017.

So, what is a Veemo?

This is a fully suspended vehicle with a seamless electric assist and an upright seating position in a cabin that provides you with all the comforts you’d expect in a car. Except for air conditioning, but we do have heated handgrips and seats for the winter. But I can’t see needing it when you’re cycling—you keep warm.

Consider it a coaster bike on steroids. Pedal forward to move, pedal back to break. It has an automatic transmission. It has a 500-watt power assist—500 watts, to put that into perspective, is the equivalent of two Olympic cyclists helping you propel the vehicle down the road.

How much does this beast weigh?

It’s 265 pounds.

Is there room in that 265-pound bike for cargo? Can I use it for groceries?

It’s designed to have a full overhead baggage suitcase behind the seat. We’ll have a hook for dry cleaning. You could do your weekly grocery shopping. You could probably put your dog in the back.

Wait, so I can use it to, say, bring my cat to the vet?

I guess if you had a small enough carrier or if you put a blanket down. It’s pretty durable inside. Actually, wait, we haven’t made that policy decision yet.

That’s one hell of a bike. Do riders need to wear a helmet to be in line with B.C.’s mandatory helmet law?

There are exemptions for stable vehicles like quadricycles. We will apply to have the same exemption. Even though our vehicles have three wheels, they are still as stable.

And just how fast does one of these Veemos go so as to not legally become a car?

32 km/h. Statistics show when you’re under 50 km/h, the death rate drops dramatically simply because of speed.

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Some drivers probably won’t want to be stuck behind a vehicle going 32 km/h.

The great thing about Veemo is that it does have presence on the road. That’s a safety factor. You can see them from afar. They’re illuminated at night with LED lights. If you’re in a 50 km/h lane, you have every right to be there, but because you have presence you’re probably taking the lane up—you should be taking the lane up. It could impede traffic, but many streets are two lanes. Most of the time, though, in urban areas the streets are clogged and the bike lanes are empty. This is where we find an interesting advantage. In rush hour traffic, we will be faster.

So these things can go in bike lanes?

They are classified as cycles and are small enough to fit in bike lines. We corresponded with the authorities on that at a very early stage. Bike lanes are 1.5 metres wide. Our vehicles are 1.15 metres wide. If there is a need for overtaking, there is room on the side.

And how big will your fleet of Veemos be?

We’ll probably start with 100. We think the Vancouver market is so robust that we can grow it to hundreds of vehicles in the City of Vancouver in the next few years. The market for car shares has been growing in Vancouver by 38 percent per year since 2007. And it has no signs of letting up.

Where will Veemo be available?

The home zone will be focused on the urban core of Vancouver—high-density areas. We may go to 16th Avenue to the south, Nanaimo Street to the east, and MacDonald Street to the west.

What about UBC?

Our first commercial trial is set for UBC. We have the support and encouragement of UBC parking, and we’ve had meetings with student representatives at UBC, and they are very excited about the prospect—to have their own transportation system around campus. It’s a huge campus and there really is no transit system to get around it, so we fill a real need there. And for all the people who don’t have driver’s licences, this is the first enclosed vehicle option that they’ve ever had.

And where can they be parked?

We will operate the same as the other car shares. They’ll have reserved parking around the city and the same access to residential permit parking. And we’ll have the unique ability to park our vehicles in what we call off-sidewalk parking, like plazas that cars couldn’t park in. Wherever there’s a bike stand, you can park adjacent to that, because they are classified as cycles. That opens up a number of possibilities for parking in the downtown core.

What will Veemo cost me?

The price will be about 30 percent less than the other car shares, about 28 to 29 cents per minute.

Alright, final question: how do I get into a Veemo and start driving? What’s the process?

It’s going to work off your smartphone primarily, but basically we’re making it so it’s smartphone-enabled, and essentially you can be walking on the street, see one of our vehicles, download the app, put in a credit card, pin number, and be in your first Veemo in five minutes and drive down the road. Because you don’t have to have a driver’s licence, there’s no driver’s licence testing.

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