Back in June, I ranted on and on (and on) about my utter contempt for e-bikes. Not the bikes, themselves, of course, but the poor behaviour of many who ride them. Again, I’m not referring to accessibility scooters, bicycles with an electric-assist, or those step-on scooters. I’m talking about the battery-powered bikes that resemble motorcycles or full-sized scooters. They wreak havoc on streets and sidewalks. My main concerns remain both personal and public safety.
Since penning my previous opinion piece in June, I can’t even count how many scooters I’ve had to move out of the way for as they blast by me down the sidewalk. It’s literally become a daily occurrence and it’s getting worse not better. Spend any time whatsoever on the waterfront bike trail near my house and you’ll see dozens of electric scooters whizzing by cyclists and pedestrians. Some with fairings, others with saddlebags. Rarely with signals or lights.
Several months back, a rider of a large electric scooter narrowly passed by me through a pedestrian crosswalk and continued on along the sidewalk, directly in front of a police cruiser that was sitting at the stoplight. I looked eagerly at the officer driving for some sort of action, but he simply raised his hands and shrugged as if to say, “What are ya gonna do?” I’ve reached out to Toronto Police Services several times over the last six months and have yet to receive an official statement regarding their stance on the matter of e-bikes but I bet I can guess.
Do they belong on the street or the sidewalk? Nobody seems to be clear on it, so I went further up the ladder. There is still a grey area of misconception surrounding their legality among policymakers, police, and consumers alike since it varies wildly from place to place and rarely seems to be enforced anyhow. According to the FAQ section of their website, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation states that “Currently, only e-bikes weighing 120 kg and under are allowed on Ontario’s public roads as e-bikes. A weight greater than 120 kg will no longer qualify as an e-bike.”
Laws in British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia dictate that as long as the machine has pedals and is under 120 kg (265 lb) and 500W, you do not require a license, insurance or registration. You can ride where you please as long as you are over 16 years old and wear a bike helmet. Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s minimum age is 14 years old. Riders must attempt to stay as far to the right side of the lane as possible when riding on active roadways. You can legally ride an e-bike in Alberta at age 12 but you have to wear a motorcycle helmet.
When asked for additional clarification, the Ontario ministry’s official response was as follows: “E-bike operators must meet additional requirements including a minimum operating age of at least 16 and mandatory helmet use. E-bike operators who do not obey the rules of the road may face fines if convicted. Additionally, e-bikes have a maximum vehicle weight of 120 kg and all power assistance must cease at or below 32 km/h.” So, if the vehicle in question is any smaller than 120 kg or less powerful than 500W, they don’t require a license or registration. For reference, a Honda CBR 125 weighs 137 kg (302 lb).
Scooters range in style and size, so police would have to stop and inspect each bike to see which category it falls into, and then identify what charges would be involved depending on each individual situation. It’s not exactly an efficient use of their time and resources. Power cannot exceed 500W, but who can tell if a scooter’s performance has been hopped up? Following the rules is evidently left up to the honour system. Following the logic of the regulations, a 120 kg (265 lb) scooter with a 150 lb rider doing 32 km/h has roughly the same kinetic energy as a Fiat 500 doing 20 km/h. It would leave a mark on whatever or whomever it hit to be sure.
Municipalities are waiting on provincial direction and provinces contacted say reform is awaiting federal legislation to more accurately define the various transportation devices based on size, battery output and speed. The federal government? Well, apparently they’re working on it but in the meantime they’ve left it up to municipalities to dictate how they want to individually manage the situation. So, each level of government is passing the buck.
If the government isn’t firm on the rules and the police aren’t pulling people over, are they expecting the companies that sell e-bikes to start being the gatekeepers? They’re the ones who have the most to lose if regulations are strengthened, followed or enforced. Manufacturers and dealers alike specifically target low-income people without a license in their marketing, which contributes to them commonly being referred to as “DUI Bikes”.
Thankfully there is at least a little bit of common sense coming from some level of government. The City of Toronto provided a statement saying, “City staff have suggested that there may be safety benefits to requiring training, registration and insurance for operators of electric seated scooters and electric motorcycles, similar to the requirements for an “M” class license for motorcycles.” No word on how or when that would transpire because it would be regulated by the province, but I’m all for it.
Not only are more people taking advantage of this loophole by riding their e-bikes wherever they please with truly reckless abandon, but now some legitimate gas-powered scooter and motorcycle riders are jumping on the bandwagon to skirt traffic laws and plate registration.
Last month, I witnessed a Kawasaki Ninja 250 with a green e-bike plate blast through a red light and hop up on the sidewalk to pass the traffic ahead, its rider not wearing any kind of protective gear whatsoever. A week later I pulled up to a stop sign beside a Vespa with a green e-bike plate. I could hear its motor idling, so turned and gave the rider a puzzled look. He smiled and gave me a wink. Again, this past weekend, I witnessed a similarly green-plated Vespa ride the wrong way down a one-way street before swerving up onto the sidewalk to avoid waiting at a red light. You could hear the engine running and see the exhaust emitting from the tailpipe. Its rider was at least wearing a bicycle helmet.
Rather than paying $120 to renew my license plate sticker and fork over $2,700 to my insurance company for the privilege of playing by the rules each year, what is stopping me from throwing a green plate on my Triumph Thruxton and riding wherever I damn well please for nothing more than the cost of gas? It previously would have seemed like an outrageous comparison, but my recent experiences have blurred that line. It’s a roll of the dice that some people are only too happy to take a chance on apparently. Not me.
Of course, riding in and around traffic poses risks and I would never do so without insurance. But the question arises, who is accountable for compensation related to injuries or damages resulting from a collision with an e-bike whose rider is at fault? Those of us who pay their insurance and taxes. The insurance companies and provincial governments allocate funds towards paying the bills for collisions caused by the uninsured or underinsured. The rules only seem to punish people who have something to lose.
A discounted provincial license plate or municipal permit sticker would bring in revenue and encourage riders to abide by the rules for fear of losing it. Cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and personal watercraft all require some sort of registration and insurance, why not e-bikes? There should be a clear directive as to where these vehicles can be used and by whom. Whether they are being ridden on our roads or on our sidewalks, there should be a system in place that holds the people who ride them accountable for their actions. That’s all I’m asking for – accountability.