Hamilton puts off decision on e-scooter companies after public raises safety concerns

Hamilton city councillors are holding off on making a decision about allowing e-scooter rental companies in the city to seek more input from groups, including those advocating for people with disabilities. 

Report recommends some e-scooter revenue should go to bike share program

A staff report outlined what it might look like for rental e-scooters to run in Hamilton. Their recommendations have been deferred. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Hamilton city councillors are holding off on making a decision about allowing e-scooter rental companies in the city to seek more input from groups, including those advocating for people with disabilities. 

City staff recommended allowing a maximum of three companies to run in Hamilton. Each one would offer between 250 to 500 e-scooters in the existing bike share service area, meaning a possible 1,500 devices hitting municipal streets. 

But after delegates flagged safety concerns, the city's public works committee unanimously decided Monday that staff should do more consulting with the community. 

James Kemp, who represented the Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities, said they were "emphatically against" adding companies to the mix. Rental e-scooters would be on top of anyone riding a personal e-scooter — a move that city council approved in December. 

E-scooters can look like "fun" or a potential "money-making program," he said, "but to the disabled, it's a terrifying prospect."

He said it would be "impossible" to keep riders off sidewalks and warned they could be a tripping hazard when they're not properly parked.

Kemp said e-scooters platforms should have a "garish mix of bright colours and unusual patterns" to stand out to someone with vision loss, acoustic warning systems, and flashing lights to alert those with hearing loss. 

"We cannot plan for every eventuality, but we should try," he said. 

Larissa Proctor, an advocacy lead for the CNIB, said she was also concerned for the 29,342 Hamilton residents living with sight loss. 

She said the organization received "alarming" feedback connected to Ottawa's pilot program, including safety concerns like unsafe riding and sidewalk riding despite it not being allowed. Other hazards included improper parking and instances where e-scooters were discarded on sidewalks or blocked assistive pedestrian signals. 

Potential to expand to 900 e-scooters each

The province is running a five-year pilot program that allows e-scooters on municipal roads, but only if a municipality "opts-in." In Hamilton, people are allowed to ride electric kick scooters on roads, bike lanes, multi-use paths in the road right-of-way, and designated pathways in parks.

No rental companies in Hamilton have been approved yet. The staff report outlined the request for proposal process for businesses and gave recommendations on what the programs might look like.

James Kemp spoke on behalf of the Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities, which is against having rental e-scooter companies in Hamilton, at a public works meeting on Monday. (City of Hamilton)

Each company would be allowed to offer 500 e-scooters in the current bike share service area. They could expand to a maximum of 900, but would have to keep to a ratio of 150 devices to 10 square kilometres. 

Locking system, riders must be educated

E-scooters would be required to have a "locking" mechanism and fasten onto bike racks or poles. Peter Topalovic, city program manager of sustainable mobility, said this would be a first in Canada. 

On top of a horn or bell, which is also required, companies will be "encouraged" to include specialized equipment that creates a sound automatically to alert people of an oncoming e-scooter. 

Topalovic said staff didn't want to specify further as there are multiple technologies. Companies vying for a spot will have to come up with a plan.

"If they couldn't provide that type of signaling plan, then they would lose many points or they would not have their RFP awarded," he said. 

Companies will also have to educate their users, which Topalovic said can be done through an app, email or by deploying people in the community. He said that plan will also have to be evaluated. 

While Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko voted in approval of delaying a decision, he said it seemed like a lot of the safety concerns had been addressed and that there were misconceptions about e-scooters. 

He asked about injuries and sidewalk-tripping incidents since personal e-scooters were made legal five months ago. Topalovic said he hadn't heard of anything of major consequence. 

"It seems to be a complete non-issue," Danko said.

Impacts on bike share

Jamie Stuckless, a Hamilton resident who recently stepped down from her executive director for Share the Road, said she was supportive of personal e-scooters, but was worried that companies could negatively affect Hamilton's bike share program.

The bikes are colloquially known as SoBis. The program almost ended last year, but was saved by a crowd-funding campaign and charitable donations. 

While the locking requirement would help reduce blocked sidewalks, Stuckless said it could lead to overcrowded bike racks and share stations. She also said the best strategy to ensure people don't ride on sidewalks isn't "stickers or education" but "building more safe spaces for people to ride."

Topalovic said staff believe there are enough racks and poles, but that the city has an "inventory ready to be deployed" and funding for more.

The report also recommended that a portion of revenue — vehicle and trip fees collected from the operators — be allocated to offset the impact on the bike share program. 

The minimum required fees recommended by staff, which would be paid to the city, would be as follows:

  • $5,000 annual administration fee. 
  • $5 program improvement fee per e-scooter per year.
  • $40 annual vehicle per e-scooter for the first 100 devices.
  • $45 annual vehicle fee per e-scooter for each additional vehicle beyond 250 devices up to 500 devices.
  • $50 annual vehicle fee per e-scooter for each additional vehicle from 500 to 900 devices.
  • $.0.05 per trip for all e-scooters

Companies would also pay a $15,000 security deposit, which the city can access if the business doesn't "address concerns in the adequate timeframe," like removing improperly parked e-scooters.

The contract would be for two years, with one-year renewals available to no more than a five-year term total.


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