E-scooters may soon be returning to the streets of Toronto, despite concerns from disability advocates.
City councillors voted to design a pilot program that would allow Torontonians to rent e-scooters during a recent infrastructure and environment committee meeting. The motion, which passed with a 4-2 vote, mandates Toronto's general manager of transportation services to develop a plan for integrating e-scooters into the city's transportation network. The proposed pilot program aims to kick off next summer with integration into the city's BikeShare program.
The city says pilot plan recommendations will be presented to city council for further discussion at the upcoming city council meeting on July 19, coinciding with Mayor Olivia Chow's first vote.
Two years ago, the council banned e-scooters due to safety concerns and objections raised by the disability community.
Coun. Dianne Saxe of Ward 11, University-Rosedale, who brought forward the motion, hopes this pilot project will pave the way for a comprehensive micro-mobility strategy and an active transportation network in Toronto.
“E-scooters can offer a valuable micro-mobility option that can help Torontonians get around in a congested city and help Toronto meet its TransformTO climate goals,” said Saxe. “E-scooters are inexpensive, use very little energy, take less road space than other micro-mobility options, create no pollution at the point of use, can be used without physical effort and in virtually any clothing, and are widely considered fun to use. They can be folded and carried on transit when bikes and other ‘last mile’ options cannot.”
There is a powerful market demand for such scooters, which is growing as traffic congestion increases, inflation rises and awareness of our climate crisis is accelerated by wildfire smoke, said Saxe. Evidence presented at the infrastructure and environment committee stated there are at least 40,000 privately owned scooters in Toronto, with this number increasing by 8,000 to 10,000 each year, she added. “In addition, unregulated private operators are increasingly offering e-scooters for rent. I am seeing such scooters with more and more frequency. These private scooters are often ridden, at speed, on the sidewalk, where they pose a serious risk to those with disabilities as well as to other pedestrians.”
While Toronto opted out of the province's five-year e-scooter pilot project in 2021, other municipalities in Ontario, including Ottawa, Oshawa and Brampton, have embraced e-scooters. The opportunity to participate in the provincial pilot program will expire in 2025.
But Saxe said the major change since 2021 is the availability of sidewalk prevention technology.
According to Coun. Dianne Saxe of Ward 11, University-Rosedale, evidence presented at the infrastructure and environment committee stated there are at least 40,000 privately owned scooters in Toronto.
“Sidewalk safety is very important to me. I think the City of Toronto should do much more to keep fast motorized vehicles off our sidewalks for the sake of those with disabilities and every other pedestrian. That is why my spring motion asked for staff advice on how to keep e-bike couriers from riding dangerously on the sidewalk, which is a growing threat in my ward.”
But according to Saxe, some e-scooter companies claim that since 2021, they have developed technology that prevents their e-scooters from operating on the sidewalk, have obtained adequate insurance and have otherwise addressed these concerns.
Saxe suggests following Ottawa's example, where a pilot project was implemented in 2021 but faced significant conflicts with pedestrians. However, in 2022, Ottawa introduced sidewalk prevention technology, leveraging cameras and artificial intelligence to prevent scooters from operating on sidewalks, she added. This technology has proved successful, leading the Ottawa accessibility advisory committee to support the continuation of its e-scooter pilot.
“Another crucial aspect of the Ottawa pilot is the introduction of fees charged to scooter providers, which would generate the necessary resources for monitoring and enforcement,” said Saxe.
E-scooters come with safety features such as voice assistance, an acoustic vehicle-alerting system, the ability to call 911 and controlled geofencing, which prevents e-scooters from travelling outside a designated area. Some of the loudest opponents of e-scooters are advocates who say people with disabilities are endangered by electric scooters racing silently at high speeds on Ontario sidewalks, roads and park paths.
Saxe emphasizes that the success of the pilot program would depend on whether the sidewalk prevention technology effectively keeps scooters off the sidewalk. “If the technology does not prove to be efficient, the pilot program would not proceed.”
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.