The percentage of e-scooter riders surveyed under Chicago shared e-scooter pilot in 2019, saying their scooter rides replaced rides that would otherwise have been made by cars. A Toronto City Hall committee will on Wednesday vote on a recommendation to ban all e-scooter use on public streets.
Aaron Binder has been helping a lot of people buy electric scooters over the last year. As Chief Experience Officer for Segway in Ontario, he says the company’s store in the Distillery District could not keep up with the demand for people who want to buy the kick-style stand-up scooters they sell.
Whether it’s because the pandemic has people on guard against the TTC, or just because they like the idea of a low-emission alternative to the car, people will search.
But scooters could make these people mock, permanently. If the recommendations from a staff report are adopted by City Hall’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee on Wednesday and later stamped with approval by the Toronto Council, the city’s current temporary ban on the use of e-scooters on streets and in other public spaces was voted into place by the council this fall 2019, while staff reviewed the issue – will be made permanent.
“They mostly turn conscientious citizens into criminals,” Binder told me in an interview over the weekend. “[Scooter riders] just trying to get to work, or they are just trying to do their job, or they are just trying to have fun in a safe way. ”
Binder was surprised to see the report recommend a continued ban on people owning e-scooters using them on city streets. Part of the question is that City Hall’s debate on e-scooters seems to have focused primarily on whether Toronto should give the green light to shared e-scooter services like those found in dozens of cities around the world and give people the opportunity to use an app to hop on a scooter for short trips.
Despite an astonishing amount of lobbying from shared e-scooter companies such as Bird Canada and Lime over the past year, the report recommends allowing shared scooters in Toronto, citing accessibility issues related to sidewalk driving and scooters left on the streets, and general safety issues- most shared scooter riders do not wear helmets. And that’s fair enough. Giving businesses permission to use public streets is something that deserves a lot of scrutiny and caution.
But even if you are a scooter skeptic and have concerns about how e-scooters can be safely integrated into the city, a complete ban that includes people buying their own e-scooters is the wrong move.
Firstly, good rules can be enforced, and they clearly are not. I counted more than two dozen e-scooters while out for a walk in the city last Saturday. People are already driving and the city has no plans to get them to stop. Electric bikes are allowed, which makes it all feel pretty arbitrary – as if the city feels strongly that anyone traveling via electric power has to sit down for some reason. This is a recipe for selective enforcement, where scooter riders become awkward when officers feel like it.
In addition, the sale of e-scooters will remain legal in Toronto under the proposed rules, and any proposal that local stores stop selling them is unlikely to deter prospective buyers.
“What worries me is that you might be driving people to online retailers like Amazon and Best Buy that do not provide the personal service. They do not provide safety advice. They do not provide guidance for just wearing a helmet. They do not provide a training session, ”said Binder, whose store offers all these things and also tells riders to stay from hell to sidewalks.
Secondly, it is important to put e-scooters in a larger context with how people get around. The data suggest that e-scooters act as an alternative to driving. The city’s Chicago survey of their shared e-scooter pilot in 2019 showed that about 43 percent of e-scooter users surveyed said they would otherwise have traveled by car.
So one way to think about this question is to imagine a scenario where the car was not invented more than a century ago and was just a new innovation. Imagine a bunch of advocates approaching Toronto and arguing that the city should legalize the operation of cars and trucks.
“We need you to radically rebuild your streets, destroy neighborhoods, to create wider roads and highways,” they might say in their pitch. “We also need you to offer acres of parking. Oh, and by the way, our machines will be associated with the deaths of about 2,000 Canadians a year. ”
No city would ever accept that proposal, but – oh – it already did. Cities have spent decades trying to crawl back from their historical flaws. It has not been easy. There are trade-offs with every choice and no mobility method is completely safe. Conflicts are inevitable. But can cities really expect to make progress by banning alternatives to the car?
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