A five-year pilot project allowing the use of electric scooters on provincial roads launches in Ontario on Wednesday, despite safety concerns raised by some advocates for the disabled.
The Ontario government announced the pilot in November after holding several weeks of consultations, saying the move will expand business opportunities and help cut down congestion on provincial roads.
But a long-time accessibility advocate said this week he still hopes to convince Premier Doug Ford's government to require strict enforcement when the e-scooters hit the roads in the coming months.
"Premier Ford seems to want to motor ahead with this plan," said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. "We'd like him to put the brakes on. What's the hurry?"
The Ministry of Transportation floated the idea of legalizing e-scooters during the summer, allowing them to be driven anywhere a bicycle can operate.
The two-wheeled, motorized vehicles are currently illegal to operate anywhere other than private property. Under the new regulations, they will be permitted on roads but cannot exceed a maximum operating speed of 24 kilometres per hour and must also have a horn or bell.
Riders must be at least 16 years old and must wear a helmet while driving one of the vehicles, which cannot weigh more than 45 kilograms.
The ministry said Tuesday that municipalities can pass their own individual bylaws to permit e-scooter use and set safety standards in their communities.
"We expect the municipalities that participate in the pilot to make safety a priority and establish rules that promote the safe operation and integration of e-scooters in their communities," spokesman Jacob Henry in a statement.
Lepofsky said the vehicles move quickly and quietly and will present a safety threat for the disabled and non-disabled alike.
"As a blind person, I want to walk safely in public," he said. "I fear an inattentive, unlicensed, uninsured person, as young as 16, with no training, experience or knowledge of the rules of the road, silently rocketing towards me at 24 kilometres per hour on an e-scooter."
Lepofsky said provincial laws should require e-scooter drivers to have a licence and insurance. They should also ensure that if an e-scooter is left in a public place like a sidewalk, it should be forfeited and confiscated, he said.
E-scooter rental companies should have mandatory liability for any injuries that the vehicles cause, and limits on the number of e-scooters, he added.
Earlier this year, the CNIB Foundation, which advocates for the blind or people living with vision loss, said it was concerned about the rules spelled out in the government's proposal not taking into account the potential for the vehicles to be improperly driven on sidewalks.
The CEO of Bird Canada, an e-scooter rental company preparing to launch in Toronto this spring, said the company is committed to safety.
Stewart Lyon said he has met with organizations that advocate on behalf of the disabled, including the CNIB Foundation and the City of Toronto's accessibility committee, to address their concerns.
"We have bells on the scooters and we work very hard to make sure they are parked correctly," he said. "It's not in our interest to be a pain in anyone's side. It's not in our interest to impinge the accessible community in any way."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2019.