E-Scooters in Toronto, Should They be Allowed?

E-Scooters in Toronto, Should They be Allowed?

E-Scooters on GTA Streets

On January 1 of 2020, the Ontario government launched a five-year pilot project for electric kick scooters, allowing them on city streets in the province (subject to municipal regulations). Ottawa, for example, has given the green light to a city-wide e-scooter rental program. However, due at least in part to push-back from disability advocates and others, Toronto has postponed its participation in the project. City staff is looking into the legal and safety ramifications of e-scooters on GTA streets, and the date for possible participation has been pushed to May of 2021.


What is an electric scooter, and what do you need to know about their possible presence on our streets in the spring? Electric scooters run on rechargeable batteries that allow you to travel up to 65 kilometres before they need to be recharged. They look like classic two-wheeled scooters from childhood, but are adult-sized, with a motor mounted on the frame. Electricity produced by the battery travels back to the motor, which causes one or both wheels to rotate, pushing it forward. E-scooters have a top speed of about 25 kph to 30 kph. Riders must be at least 16 and are required to wear a helmet.



Environmentally-Friendly Commuters or Dangerous Road Hazards?

These devices have been around since the late 90s, but in recent years, scooter-sharing schemes have boosted their popularity in cities such as San Francisco, Paris, and Copenhagen. Electric kick scooters appeal to a number of demographics; they’re low-maintenance, cheap to operate, and relatively inexpensive to buy. (Canadian Tire sells a well-reviewed model for $539.99, for example.)


Climate activists have welcomed the idea of e-scooters on our streets, because even if only a small percentage of commuters use them, any alternative that takes cars off the streets will result in a decrease in the use of petroleum products. This means a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a decrease in air pollution. (They are very quiet, so they don’t contribute to noise pollution.) Aficionados of electric scooters also promote their “fun” quotient – they’re easier to operate than electric skateboards or hoverboards, and they’re a lighter and more portable alternative to bicycles. They don’t require a parking space. They also provide a bit of exercise for riders.


In Toronto, however, adding any new type of vehicle to our already overcrowded streets is bound to be controversial. Drivers who regularly have to navigate streets filled with vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, streetcars, buses, motorcycles, skateboards, and Vespa-style scooters are not keen to add more complications to their daily commute. Many see e-scooters as dangerous additions to the traffic mix.


Drivers aren’t the only ones concerned. Because e-scooters are so quiet, disability advocates worry that those with visual impairments may not be able to determine their presence in traffic. In addition, some cities have seen problems with e-scooters left lying on sidewalks, which could also prove dangerous for those with a visual disability.



Emerging Evidence

With the evidence we have currently, it doesn’t appear that the use of e-scooters replaces car use. In Germany, a 2019 study showed that people were mainly using the devices for short distances that they otherwise would have walked or cycled. The same study showed that use of e-scooters peaked on weekends and late in the day, which suggests that they’re not used for commuting but rather for recreation or by tourists. There could be dangers associated with recreational use, too – in Munich, more than 400 people were arrested for operating e-scooters while intoxicated within the first few months after an e-scooter sharing program began.


In Austin, Texas, another 2019 study looked at injuries involving electric kick scooters. During a single three-month period, 190 people were injured in e-scooter collisions. Of these, all but two were e-scooter riders. (One was a cyclist and one was a pedestrian). Almost half of them had head injuries, and over a third suffered bone fractures. Statistics from southern California indicate that of those with head injuries, treated in two hospitals, less than 5% were wearing helmets. Calgary, which greenlit an e-scooter sharing program in 2019, found that approximately six people per day ended up in the ER with e-scooter-related injuries during the first two months of the program.


It remains to be seen whether e-scooters will become a significant factor on our streets, or whether they will go the way of the Segway, employed mainly as a novelty vehicle for tourists. In any case, there may be good reasons for thinking twice before taking one into traffic – including the fact that, unlike many other types of vehicles, e-scooters are not covered by Ontario’s no-fault auto insurance. This means that you could be held liable if you injure someone while riding one. If you yourself are injured you may be eligible for statutory accident benefits, but you should consult with a lawyer to learn more.