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As electric scooters gain popularity in Canada, many cities are embracing a shared e-scooter system to reduce emissions, congestion and provide another mode of transportation.

Mississauga is the latest city in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) set to introduce its shared system of e-bikes and e-scooters this summer. The city announced its partnership with Lime Technology Inc. and Bird Canada to make about 300 e-bikes and 900 e-scooters available for public use.

The decision is part of the city’s transportation master plan and fits with other climate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Geoff Wright, Mississauga's commissioner of transportation and works, in a statement.

Mississauga is, however, proceeding with caution, knowing that other cities have had problems with e-scooter riders dumping the machines everywhere, blocking sidewalks and posing safety hazards for pedestrians and people with disabilities.

Operators are required to utilize technology, including "geofencing," to limit use and speed in specific areas, the city said in an emailed response. Operators must also use educational materials and other tactics to discourage riding e-bikes and e-scooters on sidewalks.

Specific requirements are also outlined for service levels and response times in the event of improper parking, discarding or blocking public spaces by e-bikes or e-scooters.

“These factors were part of the city’s evaluation of operator bids,” the statement said.

Mississauga has done extensive public consultations over several years, finding widespread support for both e-bikes and e-scooters, the statement added.

Next door in Toronto, electric scooters have been banned since 2021. Last week, the city council there voted to continue the ban because of safety and accessibility concerns.

Greater Toronto municipalities are torn over the e-scooter debate. While some embrace this climate-friendly form of transportation, others have rejected them because of the mess. #GTA #ElectricVehicles #transport

Other nearby municipalities are also experiencing problems. In Oshawa, where shared e-scooter programs began last year, Coun. Brian Nicholson is proposing a motion to charge e-scooter companies for time spent by city staff cleaning them up. If passed, it will also authorize the city to retain e-scooters picked up by the city until costs are reimbursed. If reimbursement is refused, the city would take possession of the e-scooters after 60 days.

In Oshawa, where shared e-scooter programs began last year, Coun. Brian Nicholson is proposing a motion to charge e-scooter companies for time spent by city staff cleaning them up. Photo by Abdul Matin Sarfraz for Canada's National Observer

In January 2021, the government of Ontario launched a five-year e-scooter pilot program that allows municipalities to regulate their use and choose where and how they may be operated.

Some of the loudest e-scooter opponents say people with disabilities are endangered by those racing silently at high speeds on Ontario sidewalks, roads and park paths. They are urging other cities to follow Toronto’s lead and ban e-scooters.

“Although innovative and environmentally friendly, e-scooters can create serious obstacles and dangers for pedestrians who are blind or partially sighted,” said Neisha Mitchell, program lead for advocacy and accessible community engagement at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). “While some municipalities discourage or ban the riding of e-scooters on sidewalks, many users still do so without consequence, making these shared spaces less safe for people with disabilities.”

Mitchell said CNIB has documented many instances of e-scooters abandoned in intersections and sidewalks, creating barriers for people with sight issues.

“Pedestrians with sight loss, including guide dog handlers, cannot be expected to step off a sidewalk onto a street or rough terrain to avoid a collision with an e-scooter or navigate around an abandoned device parked haphazardly on a public pathway.”

E-scooters are relatively noiseless, making it difficult for pedestrians to hear them approaching, which can result in collisions, she said. “The ability to report e-scooter incidents is also a barrier for people who are blind or partially sighted who may find it difficult to identify the company, colour or other identifying features of the e-scooter.”

Canada's two major shared e-scooter companies Neuron and Bird Canada told Canada's National Observer they are closely working with municipalities to optimize the service, noting their team regularly moves e-scooters improperly parked or left on sidewalks.

“Safety is at the heart of everything we do at Neuron,” said Isaac Ransom, head of corporate affairs for Neuron Mobility Canada. “That is why our devices are equipped with our industry-first integrated helmet safety lock, voice guidance, a wide-riding deck for stability and large wheels.”

The vast majority of riders park responsibly, he said.

Ransom highlighted three common parking models used by Neuron in cities. First, there's a restricted parking model where trips must start and end in specific locations controlled by geofencing technology. Failure to do so results in continued charges. Ottawa and Waterloo follow this model. There's also a free-floating parking model, allowing riders to end trips responsibly at chosen locations within the geofenced area. As well, some cities, including Oshawa, opt for a hybrid model, where restricted parking is enforced in certain areas like downtown, while other areas of the municipality allow riders to end their trip in a public space or in front of their home.

Neuron has over 4,000 e-bikes and e-scooters deployed in major urban centres, such as Calgary, Ottawa, Brampton, the Region of Waterloo, Oshawa, Red Deer, Coquitlam, Saskatoon and Regina. Since the company's launch in 2021, riders have collectively travelled over 6.5 million kilometres across Canada.

“The good news is we hold riders accountable but Bird Canada takes responsibility and handles correcting the issue,” said Austin Spademan, Bird Canada’s head of government partnerships, said about the company’s e-scooter system. “A slight misparking will result in a one-time reminder to riders, but if it repeats or if it is egregious, the rider will be barred from using the app.”

Spademan mentioned that Bird Canada is developing various technological enhancements to address accessibility concerns. The company says it has audio signals on devices within Ottawa to alert people with sight impairments when scooters are nearby. “On top of that, to address parking issues, we have GPS technology that is more accurate in determining where devices should be parked, along with other technologies like digital docking.”

Bird Canada operates in five provinces, including Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, and serves communities in 26 cities across Canada.

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Amazed just how irresponsible some people are these days. Why not have a no-charge registry for the e-scooters and send the bill to the owner? But I suspect it would be difficult to monitor and create more bureaucracy and solve nothing. What is wrong with people these days leaving a mess for others to clean up or selfish behaviour obstructing sidewalks and endangering others?