After months of sky-high gas prices, e-scooters cruise to popularity in Toronto

Many Torontonians are making the transition to e-scooters as a way to get around, even though the city has banned them. Some retailers say they’ve soared in popularity in recent years, and the spike in gas prices is only bringing in more customers.

Some shops say they’re seeing an exponential growth in sales, even with the city ban

Kyle Ott recently purchased an e-scooter to get to and from work and estimates he's saving hundreds of dollars a month. (Farrah Merali/CBC News)

As a worker in the trades, Toronto resident Kyle Ott relied heavily on cars to get around to different job sites across the GTA – often using ride-hailing apps like Uber.

Four months ago, he purchased an e-scooter.

"I figured, why not? I'll give it a shot," said Ott.

"This gets me from point A to point B on my time, when I want. I don't have to wait for anybody. And it's convenient and fun."

Ott estimates he's saving approximately $800 a month by not relying on ride-hailing apps to get him from his home in the upper Beach to various job sites.

Ott is just one of many Torontonians who are making the transition. Retailers say e-scooters soared in popularity in recent years, and the spike in gas prices is only bringing in more customers. Despite this, e-scooters remain banned in the city.

Sales booming

Ott, who says he now rides his e-scooter rain or shine, says the transition hasn't just been cost-effective, but better for the environment.

"It is a huge bonus … And there's really nothing this can't do that for a single passenger that a car won't," he said.

Roman Izquierdo is planning to make the transition himself — and is now waiting for his newly purchased e-scooter to arrive.

"The main reason here was to save money on gas and to get a portable device that could take me from A to B, B to C back home, where I could maybe take the device and put it under my desk," said the Toronto resident, who also cites concerns about bike theft as a reason he's making the change.

Roman Izquierdo recently purchased an e-scooter because of the rising price of gas. He says he was also looking for a portable device that, unlike a bike, can't easily be stolen. (Derek Hooper/CBC News)

He hopes to use his new e-scooter to commute from his home in the east end near Woodbine Avenue to downtown.

It's new converts like these who are keeping e-scooter retailers busy.

"As soon as the pandemic hit, our sales just skyrocketed," said Aaron Binder, the chief experience officer at Segway of Ontario.

"Going back to 2019, we've probably seen about a 1,000 per cent increase in sales ... just for this particular device that is right in front of me," said Binder as he stood in front of a Ninebot brand e-scooter he sells in his shop in the Distillery District.

Aaron Binder is the chief experience officer at Segway of Ontario, where e-scooters have been flying off the shelves since the start of the pandemic. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

Binder says rising gas prices have brought more customers in.

"There are so many people that are coming in and they're saying specifically gas, specifically insurance. The costs of owning a car are astronomical." 

Barry Nisan, owner of Epic Cycles, says in the past five years, they've seen an "exponential" growth in sales, but he agrees the recent gas price hikes are bringing in even more customers. 

"People are telling me, 'Listen: with this scooter I'm saving instantly. Within two months, it pays for itself because I'm no longer taking expensive Uber rides and ditching the car."

Technically banned

Despite their growth in popularity, e-scooters remain banned in Toronto, although it's unclear how the city enforces it.

In 2019, the province introduced a five-year e-scooter program, which would allow municipalities to pass their own bylaws to allow e-scooters to operate on roads.

Barry Nisan is the owner of Epic Cycles, which has a location in Toronto and one in Vaughan, Ont., north of the city. (Submitted by Barry Nisan)

Last spring, Toronto city council voted to opt out of the program, citing safety concerns. Disability advocate groups flagged various issues, including dangerous riding on sidewalks and the issue of improperly parked e-scooters tripping pedestrians.

In a statement to CBC News, the City of Toronto said in part: "Council voted unanimously against permitting e-scooters to be operated, left, stored or parked on any public street in Toronto, including bike lanes, cycle tracks, trails, paths, sidewalks or parks."

But e-scooter advocates are pushing the city to change direction.

"Legalizing e-scooters will reduce emissions and traffic and promote road safety in Toronto," said Andy Kim, president of the Toronto E-scooter Network.

He says other major cities have moved to regulate and allow e-scooters and claims they haven't had major safety issues. On Wednesday, the City of Ottawa rolled out another shareable e-scooter program in which the devices have enhanced safety functions to address concerns raised by disability advocates.

"My guess is that whether or not these get legalized, we will continue seeing more and more of them, whether it's through private ownership or through rental companies," said Binder, who says many retailers do their part to advocate for best safety practices.

Two e-scooters with Parliament Hill in the background.
Two Neuron e-scooters on Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa. The city rolled out a shareable e-scooter program this week. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

"We agree that we need to look out for people with disabilities. We agree that there are safety concerns. But the best way to answer those is to work together with companies like mine at the city level."

"I think that in this day and age where we're trying to cut down on gas emissions and greenhouse and all that, we have to get creative, said Izquierdo.

 "And I don't think it's a good idea to have hard bans on creative, innovative engineering solutions."


Farrah Merali is a reporter with CBC Toronto with a passion for politics and urban health issues. She previously worked as the early morning reporter at CBC Vancouver. Follow her at @FarrahMerali