ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Toronto City Council Infrastructure Committee Is Warned that to Allow Electric Scooters Would Pose Dangers to Public Safety and to Accessibility for People with Disabilities While the City’s Officers Have No Real Capacity to Enforce New E-Scooter Regulations if Adopted
July 10, 2020 Toronto: Yesterday, the City of Toronto’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee heard compelling uncontradicted evidence that to allow electric scooters (e-scooters) in Toronto would endanger the safety of the public, including people with disabilities. Lifelong Toronto resident, John Rae, himself blind, told City Councilors that e-scooters are a “silent menace” that would make it even harder to safely walk around outside in Toronto, which already has too many barriers in his path. Toronto resident Peter Athanasopoulos, who uses a wheelchair and who spoke for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, similarly described e-scooters for the Committee as a danger for people like him.
Several City Councilors acknowledged concern over the fact that e-scooters can present safety dangers. Head injuries are among the serious injuries they can cause. Where e-scooters are allowed, the Committee was told that only 4% of e-scooter riders wear a helmet. Provincial regulations don’t require a helmet for e-scooter riders age 18 or older.
One place where e-scooters would especially endanger public safety for innocent pedestrians and accessibility for people with disabilities is on sidewalks. The Infrastructure Committee received a City Staff Report showing that in cities where e-scooters are allowed but banned on sidewalks, they are nevertheless ridden on sidewalks. City law enforcement officials told City Councilors that their overburdened officers do not have the capacity to handle the added burden of enforcing new e-scooter regulations if Toronto enacts them. One Councilor remarked that City law enforcement officials don’t now even enforce restrictions on riding a bicycle on sidewalks.
The Committee asked City Staff if any city had developed a good effective approach to enforcement. City Staff answered the Committee in the negative.
Corporate lobbyists for e-scooter rental companies who stand to profit from Toronto as a new market are pressuring hard for fast adoption of e-scooters. One of them, speaking for the Bird e-scooter rental company, said that e-scooters would not cause the City any “direct” costs. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky showed the Committee that that claim ignores their significant indirect costs. The City Staff Report demonstrated that to allow e-scooters will impose new as-yet uncalculated financial burdens on the taxpayer, such as enforcement costs and possible City liability for injuries suffered (not to mention added health care costs for people injured by e-scooters).
As for allocating new budget to such costs, one City Council member stated that the cupboard is bare. No City Councilors or City staff disagreed with that assessment.
AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky told the Committee that with the COVID-19 crisis overwhelming everyone in society, City Councillors have far more important priorities to address than e-scooters. The City Staff Report showed that e-scooters should not be adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic. In troubling contrast, the e-scooter rental companies’ corporate lobbyists tried to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, actually claiming it is a good reason for adopting e-scooters.
Despite these serious dangers, a majority of the Infrastructure Committee voted to direct City Staff to further research the implications of e-scooters and to take some preparatory steps towards Toronto holding a future pilot trial period, with the topic to come back to the Committee in November. No final decision to allow e-scooters was made, either permanently or as a pilot.
Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong voted against taking any further action that could lead to later approving e-scooters for Toronto because they endanger the public. No Councillor who voted for further action mentioned that adoption of e-scooters was strongly opposed by a unanimous recommendation of the City-appointed Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee and an open letter to all Ontario municipal councils from 11 major disability organizations.
It is a cruel irony that the City uses WebEx for such public meetings, despite the fact that that virtual platform has serious accessibility problems for people with disabilities. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, who consequently had to use a telephone to speak to the Committee, was almost denied the chance to speak to the Infrastructure Committee at all because Committee Staff erroneously thought he was not on the line, when he had in fact been waiting for 90 minutes to speak.
The non-partisan AODA Alliance, which has been spearheading advocacy against e-scooters due to their dangers for people with disabilities, is redoubling efforts with partners in the disability community to press City Council members not to proceed with e-scooters. They have a battle on their hands, since the corporate lobbyists for e-scooter rental companies have obviously devoted ample resources to work the back rooms at City Hall. Disability advocates are undeterred, having many times waged challenging campaigns for accessibility.
For more background:
Read the AODA Alliance’s July 8, 2020 brief to the City of Toronto Infrastructure and Environment Committee, already endorsed by Spinal Cord Injury Ontario and the March of Dimes of Canada
Read the open letter www.aodaalliance.org/e to all Ontario municipal councils from 11 major disability organizations, opposing e-scooters in Ontario, and
Visit the AODA Alliance e-scooters web page.