Barring e-scooters from city sidewalks, recommended by a city committee on Monday, would make it impossible to introduce the concept to Toronto, according to the CEO of Bird Canada, an e-scooter company hoping to launch here in the spring of 2020.
“If you can’t park them on the sidewalk and you can’t park them on the street, I guess we’re parking them in the air?” said Stewart Lyons.
“I don’t know where we’re parking them. They can’t fly.”
Lyons was speaking after the city’s infrastructure and environment committee passed a motion that would prevent e-scooters from occupying sidewalks, which Lyons said is a key part of the e-scooter program.
Lyons said it would be hard to create enough demand if the scooters can’t be made available to customers right where they live and work, arguing that docking stations, such as those used by the current Bike Share Toronto program, wouldn’t be accessible enough.
Currently, users in cities where shared e-scooter programs are in place can locate scooters near them using an app.
Mayor John Tory said he supports the motion, saying it’s meant to preserve the status quo, so Toronto doesn’t have an uncontrolled and undisciplined entry of e-scooters into the market.
Tory said he is concerned about the safety of scooter use and clutter they may create, adding Toronto has many narrow sidewalks and the city must be careful with regulations controlling their use.
The mayor said he has seen scooters littering sidewalks in Austin, Texas, and has asked mayors from other cities about their experiences with the dockless devices.
“They described it all the way from successful to others who would describe it … as a gong show,” Tory said. “We don’t want any gong shows in Toronto, we don’t want people to have their safety imperiled on sidewalks or elsewhere and we don’t want the city to become cluttered.”
Tory said he personally doesn’t think e-scooters should be allowed to be driven on sidewalks, or left helter-skelter there, but he’ll wait to see what city staff propose.
The fact that e-scooters from companies such as Bird and rival firm Lime have no docking stations has led to problems in some cities, with scooters being littered across sidewalks, thrown into bushes and even into bodies of water.
Lyons said that was a problem in the early days of the program, but it’s mostly been resolved. He said the scooters were being left around because the company was hiring workers on contract who were ditching them instead of relocating them in order to save time.
These days, the company now uses a more secure method to collect, charge and redistribute the scooters. The program is active in Edmonton and Calgary and is set to launch in Montreal in a couple of weeks, Lyons said.
“The good thing about Canada starting a little bit later is we have now the lessons learned and now we want to be better … operators,” Lyons said.
The province intends to release regulations soon concerning the use of e-scooters on roads. But it’s up to the city to police sidewalks.
Committee member Mike Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale) said the ban on sidewalk use by e-scooters, if council adopts it, would be temporary, until city staff can come up with a more detailed plan.
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He said the committee is already thinking of ways to refine it, but they wanted to get out in front of the issue quickly.
“We wanted to make sure that the city’s regulatory regime is out front before one of these companies tried to come into a municipality and impose a system,” said Layton, who supports the idea of docking stations for e-scooters.
The province is looking at a five-year pilot program that would allow e-scooters to be operated in the same places bicycles can operate. It’s looking for feedback by Sept. 12 on the proposal.
The proposed rules would set a minimum age for drivers of 16 and a maximum speed of 32 km/h.
E-scooters, which have been adopted in numerous cities in North America and Europe, are being pitched as a solution to gridlock in big cities and an environmentally friendly mode of transportation, but have proven controversial.
Nashville banned them entirely after a pilot project. In Los Angeles, people are vandalizing them in protest.
The problem is they clutter sidewalks when not in use, presenting obstacles for pedestrians, people pushing strollers and anyone with a visual or mobility impairment.
One U.S. study traced a surge in head injuries, fractures and dislocations treated in emergency rooms to scooter use. And researchers at North Carolina State University found that scooter travel produces more greenhouse gas emissions per kilometre than travelling by foot, bicycle or public transit.
Bird Canada is offering free trials of its scooters in the Distiller District until Sept. 15.
It expects to charges $1.15 to unlock its scooters and 35 cents a minute to ride them when it introduces the service next spring.
“Hopefully some cooler heads prevail between now and council,” Lyons said.