Tiny Mile CEO: "If the Ban Goes Through, Then the Company Shuts Down."
What other robot delivery companies should learn from Toronto's proposed robot ban.
The Toronto City Council will take a vote this Thursday, December 16th on whether or not to ban “micro-utility devices” such as delivery robots from its city’s sidewalks. Spurring the city council’s actions is the belief that such machines are a hazard to those with disabilities.
The regulatory action has been spearheaded by Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, and reignited the debate between innovation and public safety. Among the companies that would be impacted by the ban is Tiny Mile, a robot-powered restaurant delivery service that has been operating in Toronto over the past two years.
“If the ban goes through, then the company shuts down,” Tiny Mile CEO Ignacio Tartavull told me in an interview over the weekend. “We can't start from scratch in another city.” Tartavull also said that Tiny Mile has made 50,000 deliveries over 100,000 kilometers in downtown Toronto without any incidents involving people with disabilities.
According to Tartavull, the city’s beef isn’t with his company directly, but stems from a prior dispute over e-scooters. Tartavull said that after e-scooters piled up on Toronto sidewalks last year, the city banned them — but — Tartavull said that there wasn’t really any enforcement around the issue. As a result, the micro-mobility companies left, but people bought their own e-scooters and now there are more of them in the city than before.
Tartavull said that he’s been working with the Ontario provincial government for the past two years. When the provincial government announced in November an intent to start a pilot program around robots, Toronto’s city council responded with the proposed ban.
Tartavull’s issue is that the city council is leaping straight to an outright ban instead of pausing to study the issue. “We want a deferment until a staff report can be conducted,” Tartavull said. “If we are an annoyance then I'm all in for a ban.”
We reached out to Councillor Wong-Tam over the weekend, and was directed by to this section on Wong-Tam’s website about the issue. From that page:
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.
Tartavull said he is concerned about how his robots interact with the public and with people with disabilities. “The saddest story here, is that both sides care about accessibility,” Tartavull said.
Tartuvall said that since the ban proposal arose, people with disabilities have been reaching out to him to let him know how much they appreciate his company’s little pink robots.
There is an online petition circulating right now that aims to get 2,500 signatures to stop the proposed ban (it’s currently at 1,900 signatures).
Why This Matters
In talking with him, Tartavull seems to believe the council’s decision to ban robots is all but certain. But what Tiny Mile is going through in Canada should be a wake up call for every robot delivery service coming to market. Here’s why: