Ottawa Councillor Mathieu Fleury gets it right on e-scooters

The core of Ottawa is a place where leaving your car at home is very easy to do. There is excellent bike infrastructure to help commuters get around but if you need to use a sidewalk, there is a problem.

Councillor for Ward 12, Mathieu Fleury has rightfully pointed out that a non-polluting form of transportation has been giving downtown residents quite the headache; that headache is the e-scooter.

This season saw 1200 e-scooters on Ottawa's streets, double the number from last year’s 600-scooter pilot project. The scooters go up to 20 km per hour and are readily available on most downtown street corners. As long as you have the app and a credit card, you can ride one legally on any city bike path or the road.

E-scooter are an innovative way to get around town and they are very popular with tourist and young people. The downside is that once riders no longer want to use them, the scooters can be left anywhere. It's not uncommon to see a scooter parked in the middle of a sidewalk. If the sidewalk is blocked not everyone can simply walk around it. For the elderly, the disabled, or caregivers with strollers, this can be highly problematic.

Businesses also have had e-scooters haphazardly left in front of their doors. This summer, many could be seen parked right in front of the bars and restaurants on Elgin Street. The program shuts down nightly at 11 p.m. but noticeably intoxicated users could be seen riding them into oncoming traffic and on sidewalks full of people at night.

Ottawa Life writer and disability advocate Ryan Lythall had a dangerous encounter with an e-scooter last summer. "I was heading towards the Parliament LRT stop. I was on the sidewalk just before Albert. Two teens or early 20s were using one e-scooter. They were heading towards me on the already small sidewalk. As they got closer, I swerved to avoid them, but I ended up hitting a pole." The outcome could have been a lot worse. Lythall went on to say, "Fortunately, I have good control of my powered wheelchair, but not everyone is physically able to. They passed me without an apology, and I continued rolling."

There is no enforcement of the scooters rules and regulations and there is no local mechanism for complaints. As Councillor Fleury noted in an Ottawa Citizen opinion piece on November 1, 2021, thousands of calls have been referred to the companies that run the scooter services. The City of Ottawa website has a list of contact information for the three companies that own the scooters being used in town and it states that if called, the company that owns the scooter should 'remove a wrongly parked vehicle within an hour'. One hour can be a long time in the summer heat, and if one is parked in front of a cooperative housing buildings door, it could be potentially dangerous for a disabled resident who cannot get into their own home as a result.

Councillor Fleury points out that By-law Services cannot enforce regulations around scooters due to provincial law, and the city traffic service that's supposed to do the legwork can't enforce by-laws. His frustration is palpable, and with good reason. Ward 12 constantly has scooters buzzing around, parked everywhere while being a general disturbance to residents and visitors alike. He recommends scrapping the program if the city cannot put better enforcement options forward.

However, ending the scooter program doesn't have to be the solution. Returning the scooters to a standard lock-up station could avoid a lot of headaches. Toronto, Paris, and Montreal all have bike-sharing systems where the bikes have to be checked out at a station and checked in to one when users are finished with them. Failure to return bikes results in extra charges to the renter's credit card. E-scooters could be managed in a similar system, thus doing away with inconsiderate parking.

It's also time that Ottawa By-Law and the Ottawa Police Service begin to monitor the use of these scooters as they would any other motorized device. Seeing a presumably intoxicated or erratic user riding down the sidewalk is more than a nuisance; it is a legitimate safety hazard. The Ottawa Police Service should enforce the legal operation of e-scooters and should also be able to ticket and sanction riders who operate e-vehicles intoxicated or have more than one rider on the scooter by notifying the app to strip them of their ability to ride again.

Fining riders for dangerous operation of scooters and having permanent docking stations would help to resolve the most significant issues in the e-scooter program. Councillor Fleury has also suggested using 5G technology to shut off scooters riding into oncoming traffic, but scooter technology would then need to recognise that some two-way bike lanes in Ottawa are on one-way streets. At the very least, the e-scooters should technology should upgraded to stop renters from using sidewalks.

If these measures were implemented, Ottawa could get ahead of the curve and have an innovative and safe alternate travel means for residents and visitors to get around town.

Photo: Mckenzie Donovan