Committee votes to allow e-scooters on Hamilton roads, but companies will have to wait

Hamilton's public works committee has voted to allow e-scooters on Hamilton roadways. But until the rules are created, commercial operators will be banned.

Councillors raise concern about competition to SoBi bike share

The city's public works committee has given the green light for people to ride e-scooters, but will ban commercial operators until it can come up with rules. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The City of Hamilton's public works committee has voted in favour of allowing personal e-scooters on municipal roads. But until rules are established for commercial operators, they'll be banned. 

Electric kick-scooters, which travel up to 24 km/hr, are now allowed to operate on local roads and designated pathways, generally where bicycles are currently permitted, according to recommendations tabled at the meeting on Monday.

The move follows the provincial government's decision in January to start a five-year pilot program that would allow e-scooters on municipal roads, but only if municipalities "opted-in."

E-scooters aren't allowed on sidewalks or in parks. The city will look into travel through parks, if necessary, later on. 

The green light only applies to personal scooters. Devices like motor-assisted bicycles do not count as an e-scooter. 

Pilots in other cities

Part of the phase-in approach includes the city coming up with fines and rules for usage in parks. 

Peter Topalovic, program manager of sustainable mobility, said e-scooters reduce reliance on cars, connect people to public-transit, and reduce air pollution. Challenges, he said, are user and pedestrian safety, and parking on sidewalks or abandoned scooters. 

"There's been an evolution of e-scooter devices, so they include more safety measures and they're getting more robust as a technology," he said. 

There have been pilot projects and permits given out for e-scooters in Kelowna, Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa, ranging from a few months to several years long. Winsdor's project has been deferred due to the pandemic. 

Following its pilot, Montreal banned shared, dockless e-scooters for 2020 because the city said people weren't following the rules. 

The problem, the city reported, was that people were only parking in designated spots 20 per cent of the time. Tickets were also issued, with the vast majority of them being for not wearing a helmet.

Commercial e-scooter operations that are similar to bike shares will be considered at a different public works meeting in the first quarter of 2021. 

When Coun. Tom Jackson (Ward 6) asked how many e-scooters would take to the roads, Topalovic said he would assume a "small uptake," but it would rise over time. 

Compliment or competition to SoBi

Councillors Chad Collins (Ward 5) and Esther Pauls (Ward 7) both raised the question of whether e-scooters would conflict with Hamilton's bike share program, whose bikes are colloquially known as SoBis. It almost ended this year, but was saved by a crowd-funding campaign and charitable donations. 

Jessica Merolli, who spoke on behalf of the Hamilton Cycling Committee, said some members have expressed concerns about it being a "competing" form of transportation. The committee doesn't think it "has to be bad" for SoBi, she said, but the way the city moves forward will impact whether the services compliment or compete against each other. 

Topalovic said a phased in approach would help with this and creating balance in the long-term. He added e-scooters have different users, and help people "get into" micromobility — smaller, slower vehicles — who might not otherwise be. 

Merolli raised concerns about e-scooters integration, and said more money would need to be invested in infrastructure because "painted lines on roads aren't enough" to keep cyclists or scooter riders safe. 

This also goes for ensuring there isn't limited parking, she said, adding the committee wants to avoid e-scooters taking spaces on racks, and bikes in turn being displaced, improperly locked, and blocking walkways. 

Topalovic replied to a question from Jackson saying that e-scooter riders would be encouraged to use infrastructure, like bi-directional bicycle lanes, to increase safety for all road users. 

Two delegates from scooter companies —Shoaib Ahmed from Scooty and Chris Schafer from Bird Canada — and Moaz Ahmad, a researcher, also spoke at the meeting about the benefits of e-scooters. 

Brian Hollingworth, Hamilton's director of transportation planning and parking said e-scooters would be enforced like bicycles, with Hamilton Police Services enforcing on streets and city bylaw officers enforcing in parks.