New GO Transit system-wide policy on e-bikes, bicycles now in effect

A new policy governing bicycles and e-bikes on GO Transit trains and buses has come into effect. Nick Westoll has more on the changes and reaction to the new policy.

As officials say they want to address safety concerns related to lithium-ion batteries and crowding, a new policy governing e-bikes and bicycles across the GO Transit network is now in effect.

GO Transit staff were set to start inspections of e-bike batteries and e-bike equipment on Tuesday to ensure it all complies with Canadian safety standards.

Also, a ban started on bicycles and e-bikes for weekday trains scheduled to arrive at Union Station between 6:30 and 9:30 a.m. and weekday trains scheduled to depart Union Station between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.

“We really want to make sure that from a safety perspective, we’re still fit for purpose,” Frank Ibe, an executive vice-president with Metrolinx, told CityNews during an interview Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve worked with Toronto Fire Services, we’ve worked with e-bike suppliers and also we’ve seen some unfortunate events in the news regarding e-bikes, so we really want to make sure our customers are fully safe.”

Ibe said the previous set of rules didn’t touch on e-bikes. The updated policy comes as TTC staff mull imposing e-bike restrictions. Toronto Fire Services has seen a jump in fires linked to substandard or damaged lithium-ion batteries and chargers, including an e-bike fire aboard a TTC subway car on New Year’s Eve.

On social media, there have been growing reports of crowding on board certain trains with doors, walkways and stairs being blocked.

When asked about the increase of couriers and gig workers on GO Transit train lines, in particular the Kitchener and Lakeshore West lines, who rely on the devices for work and what’s being done to increase capacity for all, Ibe said his staff has been turning to data and they will keep watching it in the coming months.

“We’ve moved bike coaches to those lines. We’ve also dedicated our service pattern so that they can actually meet the times of day they are travelling with those bikes,” he said, adding eight new bike coaches are being brought into service.

As for enforcement of the new policy, riders not in compliance could face a fine of up to $360. CityNews asked about any potential plans to start widely issuing tickets.

“We’re hoping we wouldn’t have to go to enforcement. We’ve spent a lot of time on education, communication with our customers,” Ibe said.

“Enforcement is really the last approach, and we’ve spent around four weeks already just encouraging and driving that right behaviour. Essentially we’re hoping that it’s just going to be a monitoring process rather than enforcement.”

Advocates generally support changes, but concerns remain for some

Rajiv Haté, a personal injury lawyer with Kotak Law, said there has been a growing need for action with an increasing number of lithium-ion battery fires connected to e-bikes.

“The more frequently it happens, the more concerning it becomes,” he said on Tuesday, adding the changes “make sense” in terms of pushing for higher standards.

“When you become aware of a known hazard and you don’t do anything to avoid that hazard from occurring, then that’s where there could be arguments made against you for negligence, for failing … to ensure the safety of patrons.”

Haté said since the policy is still new, but further steps could be taken as more information becomes available.

He urged people to use equipment rated for the device since there can be lingering liability questions.

Alison Stewart, the director of advocacy and public policy for Cycle Toronto — a non-profit dedicated to advocating for cycling, said the changes are a “good news story” for passengers while working to promote active transportation.

However, she said she is concerned about the implementation of the changes.

“I don’t think many people are aware of how much their bike weighs, what kind of battery … they just want a convenient way to get around,” Stewart said.

She said the ban at rush hour peaks will negatively impact commutes, referring to her instances of visiting family in Guelph. She said she faces a three-plus-hour train gap on the Kitchener line after the last train in the evening rush hour leaves Union Station.

“I often take an e-bike or an acoustic bike … outside of rush hours, there are very few trains to take so I think that they should revisit that policy … and do their best to add additional bike cars.”

Stewart urged GO Transit officials to be consistent, empathic and open to working with people, especially international students who might be gig workers, to avoid issuing fines.

“It just seems particularly steep, especially for those earning less than the minimum wage,” she said.

Summary of changes to GO Transit rules

Under the new policy, e-bikes and batteries must have “UL” or “CE” requirements and certifications. GO Transit staff will now be working to inspect all e-bikes brought onto buses and vehicles, and the ones that meet the requirements will have a tamper-proof seal attached. If the battery is determined to be unsafe, the policy said it can be ordered removed from GO property.

Another change specific to e-bikes includes banning battery charging on GO property and banning damaged e-bikes or ones with corroded batteries. There will also be a maximum weight restriction of 55 kilograms (or 25 kilograms if there isn’t a battery).

Other changes include:

  • A maximum of two bikes and/or e-bikes per train car, kept in dedicated zones (green bike stickers at doors shows where zones are)
  • If dedicated zones have bikes or e-bikes, customers need to try a different train car or wait for the next train
  • Owners must stay with the bikes or e-bikes, can’t be locked in train
  • Doors and stairs can’t be blocked
  • Bikes and e-bikes can’t be kept on accessibility coaches (unless the customer has a disability and received approval from GO Transit)
  • When a train is equipped with a bike coach, customers are encouraged to use it versus passenger rail cars
  • Mopeds, motor scooters or e-bikes that “resemble” motorcycles will be banned from trains, buses, tunnels and platforms

The updated policy also streamlined rules for buses. Bicycles and e-bikes must be placed on the racks at the front of the bus (folding bicycles are exempt from this requirement), and there are only two spots per bus.

The maximum weight per bicycle or e-bike is 25 kilograms and e-bike batteries must be removed. Drivers aren’t allowed to assist with loading and unloading.

As for the rules at stations, e-bikes can be parked wherever bicycles are permitted. However, charging e-bikes is not allowed at stations.

Bicycles and e-bikes aren’t allowed to be ridden in stations or on platforms.

If the e-bike “resemble(s) mopeds, motor scooters or motorcycles,” it needs to be parked in a vehicle spot.

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