April 20, 2022

Expanding the Micromobility Discussion

Last month, I got a BlueRev X8 e-scooter which convinced me on how e-scooters can be a great last mile solution and made getting to work a lot easier. However, Toronto upheld its ban on this micromobility solution back in May 2021. I would like to take a deeper dive into this topic and make the case for why Toronto should legalize the use of personally owned e-scooters. For this post, I would like to acknowledge Jamie Stuckless – owner of Stuckless Consulting and former Share The Road Executive Director – for contributing to this discussion.

Problems from an Accessibility Perspective

When the e-scooter item was debated at Toronto City Council last year, Walk Toronto prepared a deputation highlighting some legitimate concerns from a pedestrian and accessibility perspective. They argued sidewalk riding by e-scooter riders – and the lack of sound created by these e-scooters – puts people walking in danger; especially considering the lack of enforcement. The dockless nature of privately operated scooter share services such as Lime and Bird have lead to e-scooters being left everywhere; creating tripping hazards and hindering the ability of visually impaired people to access APS (accessible pedestrian signal) buttons. The fact e-scooters were not parked in designated areas 80% of the time was one of the reasons why Montréal banned shared e-scooters in 2020.

In a February 2021 report to Toronto’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, Walk Toronto brought up the issue of precarious labour used by Lime and Bird to recharge and re-allocate e-scooters (a.k.a. “juicers”). In recent years, pay was reduced by both providers which not only reduces the incentive for juicers to both picking up the e-scooters, but also jeopardizes the scooter share system as a whole without having a reliable recharging system in place.

Walk Toronto’s reports cited e-scooters were more likely to replace other low-carbon modes of transportation than car trips in many cities with some such as Calgary and Denver showing two thirds of e-scooter trips replaced walking, biking, and transit. A NABSA report from 2020 showed a more balanced number with 46% of such trips replacing walking, biking, and transit compared to 40% of car and ride-share trips.

Cycle Toronto – which expressed support the e-scooter pilot in 2019 under certain conditions including a 24 km/h limit in bike lanes and limiting the number of operators – opposed the pilot in 2021. In addition to Walk Toronto’s accessibility concerns, Cycle Toronto highlighted the increased head and neck injury rates when hospitals are constrained due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the need for harmonized federal standards and further expansion of Toronto’s cycling infrastructure. The Canadian Institute for the Blind, AODA Alliance, several resident associations, and Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health also provided submissions opposing e-scooters.

Solving E-Scooter Challenges

Even though some cities such as Toronto and Montréal have banned e-scooters, Ottawa – which no longer has a bike share system – has been experiencing some success with their e-scooter program which was recently renewed for 2022. A City of Ottawa report showed almost 500,000 trips were taken in 2021, while e-scooters are limited to 20 km/h – compared to 24 km/h per Ontario guidelines – and are not permitted on sidewalks and National Capital Commission pathways. Geofencing is used to limit where e-scooters can operate, though there remained a large number of complaints regarding parking. Ottawa reported almost half of scooter share trips started or ended at business improvement areas (BIA’s) which helped such businesses recover during the pandemic. A trend which the NABSA report also confirmed. 

For 2022, the number of scooter operators will be reduced from three to two, companies would have to move scooters not parked in the furniture zone within 15 minutes (instead of one hour), and require scooters to emit a standardized noise.

The City of Hamilton took a two-step approach by legalizing the personal use of e-scooters in December 2020, while a shared scooter program is expected to start this spring. The Hamilton scooter share pilot will last 24 months and implement 20 km/h speed limits, geofencing, and sound as Ottawa plans to do. However, Hamilton plans to go one step further by requiring locking mechanisms for their scooters, as well as require scooters to be locked to racks or poles as their dockless bike share system currently does. Chicago reported 64% fewer 311 complaints regarding parking when the locking mechanism was introduced, while Washington DC and Los Angeles also adopted this measure. One thing worth investigating in Hamilton is to what extent the scooter share program impacts its existing bike share.

When reviewing a NABSA webinar from February 2022 which Jamie Stuckless facilitated, a couple of other issues were raised such as bike (or scooter) share systems not being eligible for the federal active transportation fund, the need for cities to build out their active transportation infrastructure, and the need to address equity concerns. On the equity front, discounted fares were a common method use and is one Bike Share Toronto is hoping to launch next year. Another equity concern is the placement of shared micromobility stations which are often in downtown areas. New York City introduced a limited pilot in areas without bike share, while Bike Share Toronto aims to expand to all 25 wards by 2025. Organizations such as Hamilton’s Everyone Rides include education and outreach components along with discounted passes which was started via a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Finding a Middle Ground

During my conversation with Jamie about micromobility, she mentioned she was not a fan of e-scooters until she rode one in Portland for a conference. She has since become a supporter of this micromobility solution including drafting a briefing note in the February 2019 issue of a Canadian Institute of Transportation Engineers publication and working with NABSA through her consulting practice. My attitude towards e-scooters was similar in this respect, while we both can relate to e-scooters not being as stable as bikes. One thing she did bring up was a preference for scooter share services that are public or not-for-profit owned. Especially considering Uber had run Hamilton’s bike share program and abruptly withdrew from the program in 2020.

The extensive amount of lobbying done by e-scooter companies such as Lime and Bird which Matt Elliott identified in his City Hall Watcher e-newsletter – which I highly recommend subscribing to – and in his January 5, 2021 Toronto Star column is worth being skeptical over. However, it is important to separate personally owned scooters from scooter share companies as the City of Hamilton has done when they initially legalized scooters in December 2020. Since companies such as Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop, Segway Ontario, and Epic Cycles already sell e-scooters, it makes no sense to continue banning them on Toronto’s public roads, though I agree with Walk Toronto that they should not be allowed on sidewalks and their accessibility concerns should be properly acknowledged. E-scooters should also be limited to 20 km/h in bike lanes and cycle tracks. Again, the need to expand cycling infrastructure will be critical here to reduce sidewalk riding to a minimum, whether it be by e-scooter or bicycle riders.

When properly regulated, e-scooters can become a great last mile solution and part of a much larger micromobility toolbox. However, allowing shared scooter services should only be considered with a robust set of regulations such as geofencing, mandatory locking, and 20 km/h speed limits, while it would be preferred to have the Toronto Parking Authority directly run the program instead of Lime or Bird. With provincial and municipal elections coming up later this year, it’s worth calling on candidates to support the legalization of personally owned e-scooters along with a series of other road safety improvements to ensure safer streets for all.

Advocacy for E-Scooters

Just as I was finalizing this post, Iraj posted a comment in my previous post about two groups advocating for e-scooters in addition to vendors such as Segway Ontario and Epic Cycles. Scoot Safe Toronto was formed calling on Toronto City council to reconsider their decision to ban e-scooters. Their website includes some rider testimonials, a link to the Toronto Micromobility Community Facebook group, and a petition which had about 75 signatures at the time of writing. The Canadian Micromobility Alliance plans to launch later this year calling for improved laws, standardizing micromobility safety equipment across Canada, and providing training programs. Those who support legalizing e-scooters in Toronto – at least for personal use – are encouraged to sign and share the petition, as well as contact city council.

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