As e-bikes and scooters take over Toronto’s bike lanes, the city urgently needs to define its micro-mobility strategy, writes columnist Andrew Phillips, explaining the public safety and social justice concerns that are at stake.
“The potential for accidents is obvious,” Phillips writes in the Toronto Star, observing that on weekday afternoons, most of the traffic “zipping along” the bike lanes on Bloor Street in west-end Toronto aren’t bikes at all. Rather, they’re an assortment of heavier and faster, and thus more dangerous e-bikes, mopeds, and e-scooters.
These micro-mobility devices are mostly used by food couriers working for companies like Uber Eats, Skip the Dishes, and DoorDash, Phillips explains. “The result is that the bike lanes, built ostensibly to protect vulnerable cyclists from cars and trucks, are now increasingly being used by heavier motorized vehicles being employed for commercial purposes and often travelling much faster than a regular bicycle.”
E-scooters are actually illegal in Toronto, Phillips notes. But the police “aren’t about to spend time nabbing people on scooters or trying to figure out exactly which kind of e-bike just sped by.”
The rise of e-bikes and e-scooters has been associated with a spike in traumatic injuries, especially to the head and thorax, with most accidents involving only the rider—and the rider being at fault, the Penticton Herald reported in March. But e-bike injuries are also more than three times as likely to involve a collision with a pedestrian than a scooter or a traditional bike, according to the United States National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.
In Toronto, Phillips says city council continues to turn a blind eye to the dangers of allowing heavy-duty e-mobility options to crowd spaces designed for slower vehicles—spaces that abut and intersect with sidewalks. Beyond the public safety concerns, the lack of a micro-mobility strategy comes with another issue, one of social justice.
“It would be a shame to crack down on those hard-working food couriers” who are “just scraping by under very difficult conditions, working on the margins of the gig economy,” he writes. The Star has previously described the plight of Toronto’s growing e-bike food courier population, many of whom are recent arrivals to Canada seeking a better life than the one left behind.
“You just need a bike and an Uber account, and you can start making money,” 21-year-old Rohin Bedi told the Star. Hailing from Punjab and currently living in Toronto’s neighbouring city Mississauga, Bedi says another essential for his job as a food courier is space for himself and his e-wheels on the local GO train heading downtown.
With the food delivery business exploding in Toronto, securing that space has become difficult. Couriers desperate for a day’s (ill-paid) work make a rush for space on trains, angering, if not endangering, pedestrian traffic.
Responding to the influx of food delivery workers from the suburbs, transport agency Metrolinx has had to adjust its operations to accommodate what one employee called the transit system’s new “bread and butter”. The resulting staffing and service changes have “thrown a spotlight on how private companies like food delivery apps rely on publicly-funded infrastructure to fill the gaps in their low-cost business models,” the Star says.
Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Skip the Dishes all declined to comment on Metrolinx’s efforts to inform them of the issues—hoping the companies would partner on solutions to address the challenge.
Further inhibiting Toronto’s inclination to play e-traffic cop is its commitment to encouraging “more eco-friendly ways of getting around, especially in the ‘last mile’ between transit stations and home or office,” writes Phillips. “An e-scooter may be a nuisance or even a threat to me, but it could be an ideal way for someone to get around the neighbourhood without resorting to a car.”
More clarity and rules may come next spring, when Toronto has promised to release its micro-mobility strategy. Phillips’ verdict is that it can’t come soon enough.