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Mar 23, 2021

5 min. read

They've popped up everywhere from Helsinki to Telaviv to Omaha.

Now, electric scooters, which are battery powered with a step-through frame and a platform for the feet, could soon be coming en masse to the Greater Toronto Area.

Effective January 1, 2020, a new pilot project that allows municipalities to permit the use of e-scooters is in place. Here's what you need to know.

Alternative transportation

The city of Mississauga passed a bylaw legalizing them in mid-February 2021 as part of an effort to diversify options for short trips in its rapidly urbanizing core.

"We see e-scooters as part of a suite of alternatives for people to move around," says Matthew Sweet, the city’s manager of active transportation.

Ontario-wide pilot program

The effort is part of an Ontario-wide e-scooter pilot program that started in January 2020, which is being spearheaded by Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO). Municipalities that choose to permit e-scooters are responsible for how they will be managed, where they can be used and parking requirements. Continuing over the next four years, municipal officials will decide if e-scooters should be a permanent fixture on Ontario’s roads.

E-scooters have been hailed as a quick, eco-friendly way to navigate city centres and a potential first and last-mile solution. But they are not without controversy. Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, has reportedly moved to ban them from its core because officials said shared e-scooters were being left strewn on sidewalks, creating a tripping hazard.

MTO has created a guideline to help municipalities safely integrate e-scooters into their communities and to educate the public on their safe operation.

Safety concerns

A woman wearing a helmet is standing next to a scooter.

Electric scooters can also be perilous for riders. The Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly 30,000 Americans ended up in emergency rooms as a result of e-scooter crashes in 2019, a six-fold increase from 2014. The jump coincides with the rise in popularity of shared e-scooter services.

“Generally speaking, what we’re seeing is that there can be safety concerns,” Sweet says.

A recent CAA survey found that some Members are apprehensive about e-scooters. More than 80 percent worry about them being ridden on sidewalks, while 58 percent are concerned about speeding and 57 percent about the vehicles “littering” sidewalks.

Rules and regulations

MTO has placed strict rules on e-scooters in an effort to ease concerns and to minimize incidents. Included among the several regulations governing their use:

  • E-scooters cannot go faster than 24 km/h

  • Riders must be at least 16 years old and any rider under the age of 18 must wear a bike helmet

  • E-scooters must be equipped with a horn or bell, have one white light on the front, one red light or red reflector on the back and reflective material on the sides

  • Riders are not allowed to carry a passenger or cargo, and they must stand at all times

  • Riders must keep a safe distance from pedestrians and other road users, as well as yielding to pedestrians and cyclists

  • E-scooters must follow the rules of the road laid out by Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. Violations can result in fines from $250 to $2,500


Along with those rules, municipalities may also have specific bylaws outlining where e-scooters are allowed to operate. Some, like Mississauga, have banned them from sidewalks, park trails and transit terminals while limiting their use to roadways with a speed limit of 50 km/h or less as well as any paths that are designated for bicycle use.

For now, the bylaws only apply to privately owned e-scooters. Long term, Mississauga is eyeing the possibility of shared services, which would operate much like communal bike programs. Check your municipality to see if e-scooters have been permitted and where they can be used safely.

Click here to learn more about CAA’s road safety efforts, including distracted driving, cycling and pedestrian safety.

Image Credit: iStock.com/chabybuck

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