City extends e-scooter pilot program for third year despite accessibility issues

Three electronic scooters are lined up on a curb beside a street in downtown Ottawa.
Ottawa's pilot e-scooter program will be extended for its third year in 2022. Photo by City of Ottawa.
Meara Belanger - CHUO - OttawaON | 04-03-2022
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Ottawa is extending its two-year-old e-scooter pilot program in spite of accessibility concerns from residents with disabilities.

The city’s transportation committee voted to prolong the program at their meeting on Wednesday after hearing from numerous delegations who say the electronic scooters are problematic for residents with mobility issues. 

The scooters were implemented in 2020 as part of the city’s initiative to promote sustainable transit. The 2021 pilot season, which ran from May 28 to Nov. 30, saw the city’s fleet doubled to 1,200 electric scooters, provided by three companies: Bird Canada, Lime and Neuron Mobility.

The city’s report on the 2021 season indicated the devices were popular among residents, with an average of 2,600 trips completed each day. 

However, some residents are concerned about improper use of the scooters, such as reckless driving and improper parking.

One of Wednesday’s delegations, Kim Kilpatrick, a resident with vision impairment living in the downtown core, told the committee the last two years had been “very challenging."

“In the past two summers, I regularly tripped over scooters, ran into scooters, had scooters almost run into me, had them blocking audible pedestrian poles, had them on the end of the walkway of my house,” says Kilpatrick. “I’ve found them in the intersections when I've been trying to cross streets.”

Kilpatrick, completely blind since birth, points out that the noiseless e-scooters, which can travel at speeds of up to 25 kilometres per hour, are a hazard for those who can’t see them coming.

According to the city’s report, industry-wide standards for sound emissions from e-scooters “have not yet been developed nor implemented.” Two of the e-scooter manufacturers contracted by the city, Bird Canada and Neuron Mobility, piloted sound emissions on some of their vehicles in consultation with Ottawa’s Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) and a specially formed accessibility stakeholder group. 

Kilpatrick, who was one of the accessibility stakeholders consulted, says none of the proposed sound emissions were suitable.

Philip B. Turcotte, chair of the AAC, delivered a delegation on behalf of the committee, urging councillors to discontinue the pilot program.

“It's our view that, unfortunately, with the experience of the last two summers, and even the recommendations before you, show that there is no viable pathway to making e-scooters safe enough for Ottawa,” says Turcotte

In addition to the lack of sound emitted from the devices, Turcotte also raised concerns about the scooters being driven on sidewalks and parked in ways that obstruct pedestrian access. 

The city received 422 emails from 161 unique individuals, and 143 phone inquiries, mostly concerning improper parking, accessibility issues, and poor riding behaviour. According to the city’s 2021 end-of-season survey, 83 per cent of respondents had encountered an improperly parked e-scooter—the majority of which didn’t move the devices and failed to report them to the city.

The city says they worked with scooter providers and the community to raise awareness about parking violations and proper use of the devices, and by geofencing key pathways, but added that the issue remained by the end of the second pilot season.

Kate Riccomini, lead of the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, cited concerns with the way the city is responding to complaints.

“We are glad to see that the city is recommending greater enforcement,” says Riccomini. “However, it's worth noting that… relies again on citizens to complain, which they haven't been. As someone with visual impairment myself, it's not a great help to me that a scooter is going to be gone in 15 minutes, if I've already tripped over it and potentially hurt myself.”

Riccomini added that she didn’t think the city’s proposed methods of enforcement, which include ticketing users in contravention of the e-scooter by-law, would be enough to curb the “large amount” of infractions seen over the past two years.

The city is implementing some changes to the 2022 program structure. Namely, reducing the fleet to 900, and downsizing from three providers to two. The city’s current providers, who will compete to win the contract for this season, will be subject to higher standards of enforcement. 

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