With the cool, wet weather returning, I’m noting the absence of a certain nifty little machine, out in the rainy traffic in front of my house today. The first time I saw one, it was hurtling toward me, going the wrong way up a one-way street. The second time, it was wobbling along in the bike lane, looking like it would fall over at any moment, possibly struggling under the weight of its driver’s 2-4. I’ve seen them on sidewalks, and on busy streets, their helmet-less drivers trying to keep up with traffic, at times in the middle of the lane. I have even seen them carry passengers. I speak of course of this summer’s hottest green item, the ebike.
What’s an Ebike? An ebike is an electric bike, or as known to MTO, a power-assisted bicycle. What this means exactly is defined in the Highway Traffic Act. They can look like bikes, or like small scooters; however they must be equipped with pedals.
Also appearing in greater numbers on the road are limited-speed motorcycles. While they can look a lot like scooter-style ebikes, they are motorcycles. They cannot have an engine greater than 50cc, but they require a plate and a motorcycle license.
Ebikes are legally defined as bikes rather than motorcycles under the Highway Traffic Act. As such are subject to the same rules as bikes, except that they cannot be operated by someone under the age of 16: you need to wear a helmet and have proper lighting, just like a bike; and like a bike, you cannot ride on the sidewalk and must observe the rules of the road. However you do not require a permit, insurance or even a written test to ride one. You can be charged for failing to follow the rules as spelled out under the Highway Traffic Act; driving one while impaired will earn you a Criminal Code charge. I was shocked by the hefty fines for particular offenses; riding in the crosswalk, $110; failure to wear a helmet, $85; careless driving, $325. You can even be fined for not having a bell or horn. And did you know that a cyclist or ebiker MUST yield the right of way to pedestrians, and MUST pull to the right to allow overtaking traffic to pass?
Is there a problem? I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that, here in Kingston, we have a lot of cyclists who just do not know the rules. Or perhaps they do know, but find the condition of our streets so deplorable they choose to ride on the sidewalk for reasons of self-preservation. I can’t pretend to know their motivations. Now we have a fleet of ebikers, who may or may not have driving experience or permits, who may or may not in fact even be eligible for a driving permit, on machines that can weigh up to 120kg, who can reach a top speed of 32km/h. In the spirit of full disclosure I will admit that, yes, I am someone’s mother. The current situation scares me.
It is very obvious to me that there is a whack of people out there riding these things who do not have a clue. That said, I really don’t want to discourage people from riding ebikes. They are clean and easy to park, two things we need badly here where per capita personal vehicle emissions are the highest of any Canadian city. From a safety perspective, though, something that weighs 120kg and can travel at speeds of 30km/h is nothing like a human powered bike. I would at least like to see those planning to purchase one pass a written test demonstrating that they understand the rules of the road; the Ministry could then issue a permit to purchase. And I would like to see some mechanism put in place to prevent drivers who have lost their licenses for DWI from driving these vehicles; let’s not kid ourselves – they’re out there. Your thoughts?
Submitted to Kingstonist’s Community Soapbox by: Deanna MacDonald.