Ottawa Citizen: Transportation committee wants more e-scooters in 2021 despite 'higgledy-piggledy' placings

By Jon Willing
Photo by Brian Goldstein, The Centretown Buzz

Council will consider an eight-month season for rented electric scooters after the transportation committee on Wednesday recommended an expanded program in 2021.

While accessibility advocates warned the committee about the pitfalls of the e-scooters, especially when it comes to creating sidewalk barriers, the

committee voted unanimously to make even more e-scooters available in 2021, and in more areas of the city, as part of the second year of a pilot project.

Councillors mostly agreed that the biggest problem with rented e-scooters are devices being improperly parked, and sometimes tumbled over, in the middle of sidewalks and people illegally riding e-scooters on sidewalks.

Under the city’s rules, e-scooters must be parked in the “furniture zones” of sidewalks along the street curb. The city might also create designated parking areas this year.

Coun. Catherine McKenney struggled with approving a second year for e-scooters, explaining that it’s “frightening” for people with visual impairments to move around their neighbourhoods with the threat of the devices causing trip hazards.

Coun. Jeff Leiper, a regular e-scooter user, considered the committee’s vote “a referendum on whether things can get better” when it comes to rental companies addressing concerns from the accessibility community.

“This is probably the last season for them to prove (themselves) to make this project successful,” Coun. George Darouze said, urging the e-scooter companies to be aware of the accessibility issues.

The Ontario government started a five-year pilot program for e-scooters at the beginning of 2020, allowing municipalities to participate and observe the impact of the devices on their transportation networks. The City of Ottawa is running its e-scooter pilot project on a year-to-year basis.

Bird, Lime and Roll operated in Ottawa last year and reps from each of the e-scooter rental companies addressed the committee.

Those companies will likely be applying for one of three contracts for rental e-scooter services in the 2021 season, which is proposed to run between April 1 and Nov. 30.

The city wants to allow between 1,200 and 1,500 e-scooters to be available in Ottawa, a big jump from the 600 e-scooters that were available in 2020.

The city is giving the top-rated proponent in the competitive procurement the option to deploy rental e-scooters in one suburban community.

The results from the 2021 season could ultimately decide if e-scooter rentals will remain in Ottawa.

Phillip Turcotte, chair of the city’s accessibility advisory committee, said eight of the 10 members of his committee don’t want the city to continue with the e-scooter pilot in 2021 under the program recommendations.

Downtown resident Linda Williams told the committee e-scooters have been cluttering and blocking sidewalks, especially later in the day.

“In the morning you would see a nice row of scooters all laid out, and you come back a few hours later and they’re all higgledy-piggledy all over the place, generally right at intersections,” Williams said.

The city, however, was generally happy with how quickly e-scooter companies responded to complaints of improperly parked devices in 2020. Results from a public survey were also largely supportive of the e-scooter program.

Rented e-scooters, so far, will continue to be banned from National Capital Commission property, including the federal pathway network. E-scooters stop working on NCC land, thanks to GPS technology that tracks where the devices are located.

Coun. Tim Tierney, chair of the transportation committee, said many people who sent feedback to the city about the e-scooter program expressed hope that the NCC will allow the devices on the federal land.

Council will vote on the transportation committee’s recommendation next Wednesday.

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