Ontario plans to allow electric scooters on provincial roads with 5-year pilot program

By: Lisa Coxon on September 3, 2019

The provincial government is mulling the launch of a five-year pilot program that would allow e-scooters to be driven on provincial roads.

Riding an e-scooter on the road is currently illegal in Ontario, since the vehicles fail to meet current federal and provincial safety standards. But the Ministry of Transportation is reviewing a proposal for a pilot program that would allow e-scooters to be driven on any roads that bicycles can ride on, with the exception of provincial highways.

Under the pilot program’s rules, anyone operating an e-scooter on the road would have to be at least 16 years of age, riding solo (i.e., no passengers), and go no more than 32 km/h. E-scooters must also be equipped with a horn or bell, front and rear lights and can’t weigh more than 99 pounds.

The proposed pilot program has, however, raised some concerns — particularly among disability advocates in Canada.

“These scooters are motor vehicles driven in a public space by someone who is not licensed, they don't have a licence plate and are not insured,” David Lepofsky, a longtime advocate and chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, told the Canadian Press. “This presents a safety issue for the entire public.”

Beyond not having any insurance, concerns about the safety risks e-scooters pose for individuals who are blind or have vision problems is prompting advocates to speak up. 

Lui Greco, a spokesman for the CNIB Foundation, a volunteer organization dedicated to helping the blind or those with vision problems, said that the government’s rules around e-scooters don’t consider the potential for people to illegally drive these vehicles on sidewalks.

“If you're a person with poor or no sight and something comes at you at 32 kilometres an hour on the sidewalk, how quickly are you going to be able to react?” he said. “It's a mess. In some U.S. cities they have declared outright bans because the scooters are litter.”

Bird Canada, an e-scooter sharing company that’s currently operating in Alberta, is trying to get the Ontario government to legalize e-scooters. The company’s CEO insists that “concerns around scooter safety are, for the most part, not based on fact or evidence.”

But critics are also calling out the government for not allowing adequate time for public consultation and feedback on the proposal. The government initially gave the public only 48 hours to weigh in on the proposal, which was posted online last Wednesday, August 28. Transportation minister Caroline Mulroney tweeted out on Thursday that the consultation had been extended to Sept 12, which created some confusion.

Lepofsky says that’s still not enough time, as public consultation periods usually last for at least a month.