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January 5, 2014

City staff recommend e-scooters be allowed in Toronto bike lanes

So close to getting it right, but at least it is progress. Of course, it would also help if the provincial government would make a clear call on definitions to clean up the mess they made originally that spawned the 'pedelecs'.

We should be encouraging electric-assist bicycles on Ontario roads, because they are energy-efficient and can help ease traffic congestion (read lower taxes for road expansion and shorter commute times). Oh, they also happen to increase exercise, reduce air, water, ground, noise and thermal pollution, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to the car they usually replace for these particular trips. The catch is, they are an additional cost for the owner, and the rules regarding their use are confusing - both inconsistent by jurisdiction and subject to change, putting private investments at risk.

The federal and provincial laws regarding the e-bikes are pretty simple. Regardless of their outward appearance, if the machine meets the definition of 'power-assisted bicycle' (PAB, or generally referred to as e-bikes), then it should be treated like a regular, human powered bicycle. It also has to be able to be moved via human power. This is the clear intent of the enabling federal rules from circa 2000. The point of the 32 km/h limit is to keep top speed in the same range as traditional human-powered bicycles. Note that recumbent bicycles can routinely exceed 32 km/h with only moderate exertion.

Then we have to get rid of (Ontario) rules that treat e-bikes differently from muscle-powered bikes, such as restricting ridership to those 16 years of age and older, and requiring use of a helmet by adults on e-bikes, which is not required on muscle-powered bikes. Stop making it confusing.

Then, we need to get municipalities and other bodies that maintain roadways, bicycle lanes, multi-use pathways, bike paths, etc. to also adopt a consistent approach on e-bikes, and which is enforceable. Stop making it confusing.

Let's deal with the perception and disinformation issues and get past them. If your issue is that some e-bikes have some fancy plastic body panels and look attractive, either get over it or get the rules changed so there is a different vehicle category based on appearance. Because some of the step-thru body e-bikes can be lighter than 'safety'-bike style e-bikes. If your issue is speed, then enforce the speed limits for the roadways and paths, and not via the vehicle's performance. (We don't ban Ferraris from municipal roads because they can travel faster than 50 km/h.) If your issue is bad behaviour by e-bike riders, then bring out some enforcement, and go after all the scofflaws, including pedestrians, pets, roller-bladers, skateboarders and muscle-bikers. If your issue is vehicle weight, then define your acceptable limit bring out the portable scales to weigh vehicles with riders and cargo - including trailers. However, you plan to do this, make the rules consistent between muscle-bikes and e-bikes, and across jurisdictions. Stop making it confusing.

As for the e-bike users, you need to understand and abide by the rules, or face the consequences. If you take the pedals off (even if you put them in the storage compartment), you no longer have an e-bike, you have a low-speed electric motorcycle. Get it licensed, get a DOT approved motorcycle helmet and wear it, and pay the insurance. If you are riding on a path with a posted speed limit, stay under it. Make sure your safety equipment and instrumentation is present and fully operational. Stay off the sidewalks and observe the traffic laws. Set the standard for good vehicle operation behaviour.

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    About the Author:
    Darryl McMahon built his first electric car in 1978, and has had at least one electric vehicle EVer since. He was a founding member of the Electric Vehicle Association of Canada. He is the author of The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy and many articles about electric vehicles, related technology and history. He is currently a member of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa, Electric Mobility Canada, Historian for the Electric Auto Association, and President of Econogics.

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