Over the past several years, e-scooters – those small electric transportation devices that zip around city streets at about 25km/h – have infiltrated Canada’s public transit landscape. Bird Canada, the Canadian division of one of the world’s largest e-scooter operators, currently runs pilot programs in Calgary, Ottawa, and Edmonton; the City of Windsor will launch its own program this summer, and in Toronto privately-owned e-scooters have become a common sight.
Ontario first legalized e-scooters in early 2020, believing they would ease downtown congestion, boost the economy, and take pressure off of overflowing public transit systems. Personal injury lawyers expressed concern. In the United States, where ridership increased from 38.5 million journeys in 2018 to 86 million in 2019, emergency room doctors reported serious head injuries in riders unfamiliar with the vehicles. In Calgary, one of the first Canadian cities to welcome Bird Canada, e-scooter accidents caused more than 500 emergency room visits from just July to November 2019, according to the Globe and Mail.
Specifically, personal injury lawyers were concerned about the following road safety issues:
- Speed: e-scooters travel too fast for sidewalks and too slow for many streets. Would widespread adoption in busy downtown cores create safety challenges for pedestrians and drivers alike?
- Rough roads: due to annual temperature fluctuations, Canadian roads are uniquely susceptible to potholes and large cracks. How would Bird, a California-founded and -based company, prepare?
- Lack of training: Bird’s e-scooter pilot projects operate similarly to municipal bike share programs, meaning users can simply grab a scooter and go – no training required. Should untrained riders be using such swift vehicles?
- Walking and cycling hazards: unlike municipal bike share programs, when a user is done with their scooter, they can simply ditch it at their point of arrival, which could lead to scooters being strewn on sidewalks or in bike lanes, creating safety hazards.
In Calgary, Bird Canada has gone so far as to fine people for improperly parking their scooters.
“We actually fine people and ban them from the service if they don’t park properly after one or two infractions – so that’s at the extreme level,” CEO Stewart Lyons told TVO.
Will that be enough to prevent e-scooter injuries in the coming months? That seems unlikely, especially considering the expected wave of adoption as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. In December 2020, Kersten Heineke of the Center of Future Mobility told CNN to expect more and more e-scooter riders in 2021 and beyond.
“[The pandemic] is a big driver, because public transit is not considered safe and not everybody has access to a private vehicle,” Heineke said. “Folks have opted more and more towards micromobility.”
Considering the imperfect state of pre-pandemic road safety for Toronto’s vulnerable road users, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see an uptick in e-scooter accidents as vaccinations increase and the city gradually opens up. Personal injury lawyers will be ready.