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Accessibility Advisers Tell Council to Scrap e-Scooter Program, but City Staff Say Keep Rolling in 2022

On Wednesday, the transportation committee will be asked to make a recommendation to council. Author of the article:Jon Willing
Publishing date:Feb 28, 2022

Faced with competing recommendations about the future of Ottawa’s e-scooter program, councillors will decide on Wednesday if the devices should be allowed on streets in 2022.

Most of council’s accessibility advisers want the pilot program stopped, while city staff want residents to keep scooting.

On Wednesday, the transportation committee will be asked to make a recommendation to council.

The e-scooter pilot program has operated for two years, allowing companies to deploy hundreds of rentable devices across downtown-area communities in agreements struck with city hall. According to the city’s data, more than 127,000 riders took more than 492,000 rides on e-scooters owned by Bird Canada, Lime or Neuron during the 2021 season.

However, the devices have added a nuisance for people blocked by lazily parked and illegally operated e-scooters, especially on sidewalks.

City staff have been weighing the public complaints about e-scooters against the popularity of the program.

The city received 422 emails containing 633 complaints related to the 2021 season. There were 161 unique senders. The 311 call centre received 143 complaints or inquiries. The three companies together received 1,443 complaints and inquiries about poorly parked e-scooters and 10 for sidewalk riding.

The city’s accessibility advisory committee has voted 7-1 to urge council not to allow the rented e-scooters in public places. The advisory committee wants the city to pull out of the provincial pilot program allowing municipalities to assess e-scooters.

“Our view is that there’s no way that we can regulate these scooters enough to make them safe enough for pedestrians with disabilities,” said Phillip Turcotte, chair of accessibility advisory committee.

“We just don’t see a way that can work.”

The report to transportation committee submitted by the city’s acting director of transportation planning, Jeff McEwen, says improper riding and parking of e-scooters “remain a top concern” in assessing the pilot program, but the city would tweak the program rather than scrapping it.

One proposed measure would decrease the number of available e-scooters to 900 during the 2022 season and have only two companies selected. In 2021, three companies collectively deployed up to 1,200 e-scooters after a competitive procurement process.

The city also wants to add more resources to manage the program using the fees collected from e-scooter companies.

As an added safety feature for 2022, e-scooters would need to emit a sound when they’re moving to alert people of the oncoming devices.

Turcotte said the proposed new measures aren’t enough. He pointed out that there hasn’t been consensus in the accessibility community about what kind of sound should be emitted from e-scooters.

The one dissenting vote on the accessibility advisory committee came from vice-chair Brian Wade, who believes the changes proposed by city staff, while aren’t perfect, adequately address accessibility concerns.

Wade said people in his disability community (limited mobility, multiple amputees) should have the right and choice to use tools “that aid in our independence and enjoyment of life.”

“My thought is that by banning the use of e-scooters you are in fact banning the use of these people’s mobility devices,” Wade said. “Because these are ‘non-traditional’ mobility devices, I am afraid that the rights of those that choose to use these types of mobility devices are not being respected.”

Wade said he believes bicycles pose just as much, or greater, risk as e-scooters and an accessibility discussion about banning e-scooters can’t come without a discussion about the dangers of bikes.

Despite his personal position on the e-scooter program, Wade said he supports the accessibility advisory committee.

If council OK’s a third e-scooter season under the staff recommendations, it’s going to cost a lot more for companies to deploy e-scooters in 2022.

Many fees would double – each e-scooter would cost $100, plus a $20 “communications and engagement fee” for each device, and the application fee would be a flat $10,000 – and a new $130-per-device “compliance fee” would be added to the bill.

The city predicts revenue of $245,000 under the recommended fees. The money would be used to manage and enforce the e-scooter program.

Ankush Karwal, regional manager of Neuron, which hopes to be back on Ottawa streets in 2022, said the company has been doing much of what the city has been asking for through regulations, including testing sound-emitting technology on 100 e-scooters last year and making it easier for people to report poorly parked e-scooters.

Karwal said the new fees proposed by city staff likely wouldn’t result in higher ride charges for Neuron customers, but he noted that increased costs can impact work to improve the experiences of regulators and users.

“I think it’s important for cities to understand that it has to be economically viable for operators to run and for operators to invest in technology to make sure they’ve got the best technology in place for that particular city, Karwal said.

Most of council has been supportive of the e-scooter program over the past two years. Only Coun. Catherine McKenney voted against the continuation of the pilot program ahead of the 2021 season.

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