Regulating Micro-Utility Devices in Toronto’s Public Space

On November 15, 2021, the Infrastructure and Environment Committee adopted recommendations from the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee (TAAC) to ban the use of micro-utility devices, also known as automated robots, from operating on sidewalks and other public spaces. TAAC’s recommendation came after reviewing a presentation from City staff and at their request for a position that was due that same day in response to a ten-year pilot program initiated by the Province of Ontario.

The legislated role of the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee, of which I am the Chair, is to advise City Council on the removal of barriers facing individuals living with disabilities and to ensure City policies do not inadvertently create further barriers.  Advisory committee members have lived and professional work experience with a number of highly respected agencies supporting people living with disabilities. They each bring a wealth of knowledge, including legal, legislative, and subject matter expertise to new and evolving policy development. The advisory committee provides strategic advice to City Council about the requirements and implementation of accessibility standards and the preparation, implementation, and effectiveness of accessibility reports as required by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA).

Much like e-scooters, these micro-utility devices are unpredictable, moving vehicles - both difficult to see and hear. Often described as the “wild, wild west,” there are currently no regulatory (including public safety or surveillance) standards, bylaw or police enforcement nor transparent accountability as the vehicles traverse through public space and mostly in pedestrian right-of-ways and roadways. In some cases, the remote operators are not located in the same neighbourhood, city, or even country as the device. 

The City of Toronto had inadequate time to assess whether or not to opt-out of the provincial pilot program, one that would exist for ten years, and consequently, TAAC and City staff needed to act quickly. Without a strong implementation program to the pilot project, zero enforcement, and no clear direction on public safety and liability, committee members voted in favour of prohibiting the use of micro-utility devices in Toronto. Subsequently, the Infrastructure and Environment Committee adopted that same recommendation. These recommendations now proceed to City Council for final consideration.

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