Ottawa

Scrap Ontario e-scooter pilot, disability advocate urges

A group that advocates for the rights of disabled Ontarians is urging the province to hit the brakes on a proposed five-year e-scooter pilot project before it even begins.

Province seeking feedback ahead of proposed 5-year pilot project

The Ontario government is considering a five-year pilot project that would allow e-scooters on the province's roads, but disability advocates have major concerns with the plan. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

A group that advocates for the rights of disabled Ontarians is urging the province to hit the brakes on a proposed five-year e-scooter pilot project before it begins.

The province has been seeking public feedback on their plan to allow electric scooters on the same roads where bicycles can operate, save for provincial highways.

Under the proposed pilot, drivers would have to be at least 16 years old and could not have passengers. The e-scooters could not exceed a maximum operating speed of 32 km/h.

Even with those limitations, allowing e-scooters on the roads will make it harder for people with disabilities to get around, and could lead to more injuries, said David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

"We've got lots of proof that these pose a lot of problems," Lepofsky told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "We don't need to experiment on Ontarians."

'An instant barrier'

Many e-scooter rental services around the world allow users to sign out the devices using an app and then — once they're done with them — simply leave them behind on a sidewalk or other public space.

While Lepofsky's group has asked the Ontario government to kill its pilot project entirely, it has also come up with 12 draft recommendations should the experiment ultimately go ahead.

They include cutting the maximum speed limit by as much as half, requiring drivers to be licensed and levying strict penalties if the scooters are dumped on sidewalks — though Lepofsky admits that last recommendation could be hard to enforce.

Something can be barrelling at me at 32 kilometres an hour ... and I can't know they're coming.- David Lepofsky

"You're walking down the street, you're blind, and all of the sudden there's an instant barrier, a tripping hazard in your path," said Lepofsky, who's been blind most of his life.

"Five minutes later it could be gone ... how do you prove your case? We don't have police on every corner just waiting to enforce [that restriction]."

Then, there's the fact the scooters are largely silent: Lepofsky also wants the e-scooters, if they're allowed, to emit beeping noises that warn others of their approach.

"Something can be barrelling at me at 32 km/h, ridden at me by an unlicensed and uninsured driver," Lepofsky said. "And I can't know they're coming."

David Lepofsky, a law professor and chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says the province should rethink its plans for a five-year e-scooter pilot project. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Safety 'key consideration'

Lepofsky also questioned the need for a five-year study that would be rolled out from one end of Ontario to the other.

"If you want to see if it's safe on our roads, you do it for a much [narrower] piece of territory, not the entire province of Ontario, and for a much shorter period — six months or something like that is what we'd propose," he said.

San Francisco-based Lime has already been lobbying Ottawa city councillors, claiming its dockless e-scooters would be an ideal fit with the city's stated transportation goals

The company recently wrapped up a trial rollout at the University of Waterloo, with competitor Bird Canada slated to launch a similar project this month in Toronto's Distillery District. 

Ontario's Ministry of Transportation declined an interview with CBC News, but said in a statement that all feedback heard during the consultation process "will be taken into consideration before any final decisions on the pilot take place."

"Ensuring that new vehicle types can integrate safely with pedestrians and other vehicles is a key consideration before any new vehicle type will be allowed on-road," the statement said.

The public consultation period wraps up Sept. 12.

With files from The Canadian Press and CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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