#RecycledThoughts: MicroMobility

Micromobility, a New Way to Get Around Town

By: Rachel Poon

A new wave of transportation trend, coined micromobility has emerged around the world, challenging the status quo of single-occupancy vehicles as the primary way to travel. Instead, it opts for shared dock or dockless bicycles, electric scooters, and electric skateboards moving people under a 10 km radius with a much lower carbon footprint.[1] This trend, with its shared and dockless features, also presents itself as a solution to the “first and last mile” problem — the distance between one’s nearest transit hub and their place of work or home.[2] The current solution for commuters to accessing a Go-Transit station has been largely driving to their nearest stop, parking their vehicles for the duration of the workday, and driving back home. Micromobility offers an alternative to driving and replaces it with an easy connectivity solution, such as shared bikes, to make transit an attractive option and reduce reliance on private vehicles. More importantly, the characteristic of micromobility is its minimal need for space and its compatibility to coexist with existing infrastructure, like bicycle lanes, leveraging its versatile use.[3] Therefore, micromobility options such as e-scooters have the ability to replace shorter trips that would have resulted in a private car trip or a ride-hailing service. In substituting the use of a single-occupancy vehicle powered by fossil fuels, it reduces the GHG emissions from the transportation sector.

All around the world, electric kick style scooters have dominated the cityscape, springing across large international capitals in Paris, Amsterdam, South Korea, San Francisco, and New York, replacing its once-popular counterpart, conventional bicycles, as an alternative mode of transportation from walking and public transit. Given its lightweight, lack of pedaling, the convenience of stand-up operation, and its lenience for the lack of activewear, e-scooters have bloomed to be an appealing choice for both commuters and tourists alike.[4] However, their reception has not been overwhelmingly positive. Some cities report e-scooters being littered on sidewalks, becoming an eyesore and a hazard for pedestrians.[5]

Lime e-scooters pilot program at the University of Waterloo in 2019.

A new player in the e-scooter game: City of Toronto, Ontario

As referenced above, Canada has signed the Paris Agreement leading to an implementation of the PanCanadian Framework on Climate Change and Green Growth to orchestrate climate initiatives amongst all levels of government.[6] Although the Pan-Canadian Framework has no legal effect, it is a federal policy document giving directives to guide Ontario provincial policy such as the Greater Golden Horseshoe Transportation Plan[7] and other various Ministry of Transportation policies. Under Section 92(8) of the Constitution Act, municipalities are creatures of the Province, meaning municipalities hold authority only on matters delegated to them by the provinces.[8] Once delegated, then municipalities have the ability to pass by-laws at the city level.

Legal Authority: Ontario

The Government of Ontario launched an E-scooter pilot project under the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA).[9] This pilot project is otherwise known as ON-REG 389/19, filed on November 27, 2019, and published in the Ontario Gazette on December 14, 2019, came into force on January 1, 2020, and runs until November 24, 2024.[10] Unless a municipality has passed related by-laws permitting its use on municipal roads (bike lanes, paths, trails, parks), e-scooter use is not permitted. The only prescribed regulation that all municipalities must follow is the e-scooter specifications, prohibition on controlled-access highways and sidewalks, and existing cycling law applies to e-scooters as well.

Legal Authority: City of Toronto

Since the ON-Reg 389/19 is sparse with details, it leaves room for municipalities to prescribe their own boundaries related to e-scooter usage. This leaves the following areas at the discretion of the City of Toronto staff: parking, operating parameters, interoperability, liability, and by-law offences.[11] City of Toronto by-law 1405–2019 amends the City of Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 950, Traffic and Parking to reflect the newly adopted e-scooter pilot as a part of the HTA.[12] It also mandates that no person shall operate or park, store, or leave an e-scooter on a sidewalk.[13] Discussion revolving around the other aspects of e-scooter regulation under municipal discretion is still in process. According to the latest available document, city councilors are still in debate over parking points, fleet operators and related permits, user accountability, and public education campaigns.

Conclusion: A bright future ahead for micromobility

It is important to recognize that user compliance is crucial to the safety of the e-scooter users and to those in the vicinity. The littering of e-scooters after use is a large problem for many cities and with proper governance, e-scooters can play a crucial role in promoting micromobility, which in turn a higher use of public transit instead of private vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is important for the City of Toronto to continue building on the specifications beyond what the Ontario Ministry of Transportation has mandated through ON-Reg 389/19. Beyond user safety, the current legislation lacks provisions to ensure operational safety with regards to pedestrian safety and commercial operator accountability. As this paper is written during the Covid-19 pandemic, it raises an interesting perspective on the community infrastructure needed for shorter trips as the need to commute to a physical workplace has stalled. Many are confined to their vicinity for their daily necessities of groceries and medicine, yielding most trips as 10km or less, a criterion for micromobility. This sheds light on the potentiality for a walkable community with micromobility modes such as e-scootering or cycling to complete their short trips around their community in substitution for a private vehicle.

[1] Alexandra Dana Meila, “Sustainable urban mobility in the sharing economy: digital platforms, collaborative governance and innovative transportation” (2019) 1 Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice 26.

[2] Junfeng Jiao and Maxwell Dillivan, “Transit deserts: The gap between demand and supply” (2013) 16:3 Journal of Public Transportation 2.

[3] Supra, note 7 at XX (pinpoint cite).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Nikil Saval “The Scooting Life: Are Electric Scooters Worth the Trouble?”, The New Yorker (11 July, 2018), online: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/dept-of-design/the-scooting-life-are-electric-scooters-worth-the-trouble 12 Ibid.

[6] Supra, note 3.

[7] Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, “A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe”, Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (August 28, 2020), online: https://files.ontario.ca/mmah-place-to-grow-office-consolidation-en-2020-08-28.pdf

[8] Constitution Act, 1867 (UK).

[9] Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8

[10] Electric Kick Scooter Pilot Project, O. Reg. 389/19.

[11] Ministry of Transportation, “E-Scooters Best Practices”, Ontario Ministry of Transportation (27 November 2019), online: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/vehicles/pdf/e-scooter-best-practices.pdf

[12] https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/bylaws/2019/law1405.pdf

[13] Toronto Municipal Code, c 886.

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uOttawa ELSA

uOttawa ELSA

Welcome to ELSA’s blog: #RecycledThoughts ♻️💭 Aiming to share previous works by our students to make it more digestible for our blog readers!