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Accessibility Advocates Call for Constant Sound to Be Emitted By Ottawa e-Scooters in 2021

by Jon Willing
Publishing date:
Feb 02, 2021

Electronic scooters, which could hit Ottawa streets in greater numbers this spring, are receiving a tough ride from accessibility advocates as councillors decide if rental companies should be allowed to operate again in 2021.

The city’s transportation department is pleased with the results from the first year of the pilot project in 2020, leading staff to suggest an expanded e-scooter program in 2021. Council’s transportation committee on Wednesday will make a recommendation on the staff proposal to continue the e-scooter program this year.

But Phillip Turcotte, chair of the city’s accessibility advisory committee, said a majority his members don’t want the e-scooter program to continue under the current recommendations from staff.

“Our point of view at this time is it’s something that transportation committee should not adopt,” Turcotte said, adding that people with disabilities get no benefits from the e-scooter pilot project but they’re impacted the most.

The accessibility advisory committee has two main criticisms of the e-scooter rental program: the devices make no sounds and the complaint process for improperly parked e-scooters is arduous.

Since battery-powered e-scooters are virtually silent, there’s no way for someone who’s blind or visually impaired to know if one is approaching, Turcotte said.

The advisory committee wants the city to require rental companies to make sure their e-scooters emit a constant sound, especially since some users illegally operate e-scooters on sidewalks, he said.

Turcotte said improperly parked e-scooters, such as one blocking a sidewalk, involve a cumbersome two-step reporting process to make sure the devices are moved. A company has an hour to move the e-scooter after receiving the call, and if that doesn’t work, the city needs to be notified to impound the e-scooter.

City staff are recommending for 2021 that rental companies be required to proactively monitor and move improperly parked scooters in high-use areas and provide a reporting option in their apps so people aren’t waiting on the phone for a response. A call to 311 would also trigger an email to e-scooter companies for quick response.

Kathleen Forestell, CNIB’s local lead for advocacy and community outreach and also a member of the city’s accessibility advisory committee, said the quiet nature of e-scooters is a top concern for people who are blind or partially sighted.

E-scooters must be equipped with a bell left up to the rider to use, but it’s not fair to compare e-scooters with bikes, Forestell said.

“A bicycle in some ways makes more sound than an e-scooter does because of the mechanical components on it,” she said..

“For me as a blind pedestrian, having a constant noise emitted by the e-scooter would allow me to know where it is in the vicinity and just have a greater awareness if it’s navigating near me and at what speed.”

Forestell said the technology is available, since a German company called Tier has been working with a U.K.-based charity to add sounds to its e-scooters.

So far, the city isn’t recommending e-scooter companies make their devices have constant sounds for the 2021 season.

If approved by committee and then council, the city will allow three e-scooter rental companies to operate in Ottawa this year, making available a total of 1,200-1,500 e-scooters for the paying public in an expanded area, which could include a community outside the Greenbelt. The 2020 season involved 600 e-scooters in the downtown region.

Turcotte said the increased number of e-scooters could present a bigger problem when it comes to accessibility barriers.

Coun. Matthew Luloff, the council liaison to the accessibility advisory committee and a member of council’s transportation committee, said he’s encouraging e-scooter rental companies to speak with Turcotte about accessibility improvements to their programs.

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