Michael Helfrick stands next to a low-speed electric vehicle he hopes to have serving as a shuttle this summer.

Sicamous council considers allowing electric cars

District council to consider allowing low-speed vehicles on Sicamous roads.

Will Sicamous council kill the electric car?

Local businessman Michael Helfrick is hopeful that won’t be the case. And council has asked staff to come back with a bylaw that would allow Helfrick’s electric low-speed vehicles (LSV) drive on district roads with a speed limit of 50 km/hr or less.

At an earlier council meeting though, council wasn’t entirely keen to jump onboard the electric car.

Helfrick is the owner/operator of Reds Rentals on Gill Avenue. The year-old business, which began as a place to rent pontoon boats and Sea Doos, is in the process of expanding to include fully-serviced and self-contained RV lots.

In a May 30 email to the district, received by council at their June 13 meeting, Helfrick explains he would like to offer a shuttle from his business to the public boat launch using electric cars. Helfrick states that he has permits from Transport Canada to acquire a driver’s licence, but licensing is hinged on whether or not council allows LSVs on district roads.

Couns. Terry Rysz, Don Richardson and Joan Thomson were supportive of the idea. Rysz even suggested dropping the speed limit on some district roads from 50- to 40-km/hr. But all three agreed that more information on the LSV, and on the LSV-friendly bylaws of other B.C. communities, should be brought back to the July 27 meeting of council before a final decision could be made. This suited Coun. Charlotte Hutchinson, who said she was reluctant to make a decision based on an email, and Coun. Fred Busch, who questioned why permission should be required from council.

“The reason why I question whether or not we should be approving this is, why do they have to come to us for approval if we aren’t in some way liable?” asked Busch. “We don’t have to approve somebody riding a bicycle, or electric scooters… so I assume we don’t have any liability. But they come to us and say can we ride these, and we say yes. And now, all of a sudden, we become the overseer of them. I don’t really want all of that. I don’t think we should burden this council or future councils with this responsibility.”

Helfrick told the News he wants to use an LSV to shuttle people to and from his business, noting there are limited parking opportunities in the community for trucks with boat trailers.

“So they can drop their boat and bring their truck and trailer up here, and then they can just hop in the shuttle and I can give them a ride back down to the dock,” said Helfrick, adding he has 12 GEM-brand electric LSVs in different models, but only wants to get one on the road this summer.

“I’ll be the only one driving… I want to get this one going as a shuttle this year  – see how the town kind of accepts it,” said Helfrick. “And then, ultimately, we’d like to rent some. It would give the whole town a resort feel. But we’re going to have to take some slow steps.”

Regarding Coun. Busch’s question, why ask council, Helfrick explained there are other B.C. communities with bylaws that permit LSVs, and that insuring an LSV is predicated on a municipality having such a bylaw.

“I went to the police station… They’ll give me a permit to run from here to the boat launch, but that’s all I’ll be able to do and it’s just a temporary permit. I’d have to renew every year,” said Helfrick. “Whereas, this low-speed vehicle act, would allow you to run it anywhere as long as it’s lower than 50-km/hr.”

Helfrick reiterated that his vehicle, complete with seatbelts and signal lights, has been fully inspected by Transport Canada, and is considered safe to drive.

Regarding liability, Helfrick said the vehicles will be fully insured and customers will be required to sign a waiver that would specify where the vehicles can and cannot go, such as the highway.

“The one thing is the highway issue, but it’s the same with anything you rent,” said Helfrick. “Someone can take a car and break the speed limit, it doesn’t matter what you rent. It will be their liability.”

Coun. Richardson did say that he had seen Helfrick’s electric car, and seemed confident they would be safe for their intended purpose.

“I’ve seen some junkers in this town that I wouldn’t even drive and yet they’re allowed on the road,” said Richardson. “These one’s here, I’ve had a chance to look at. Easy access in and out, and yes, they have seatbelts… As far as the rest of it goes, they have those safety factors built right in.

“And the other thing, as much as I bite my tongue over this environmental gobbledygook, this is environmentally friendly.”

With other LSV-related bylaws from other municipalities to draw from, district staff is expected to draft a similar bylaw that will be brought forward to the next council meeting for three readings.