E-scooters return to Virginia Tech, providing opportunities for research

Virginia Tech
(© Andriy Blokhin – stock.adobe.com)

They’re orange, they’re electric, and they’re back: e-scooters will soon reappear on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus as a continuation of a naturalistic driving study led by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and Ford-owned micromobility company Spin.

Beginning Aug. 19, 100 new e-scooters will be available at university ride-share stations using the Spin app for short commutes across campus. A fleet of approximately 200 e-scooters will be fully deployed beginning Aug. 25. Fifty e-scooters will be outfitted with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute sensors and data collection equipment that allows researchers to study riding behavior.

The e-scooter research study, launched originally in fall 2019 and paused in March 2020 due to COVID-19, records and analyzes trends in e-scooter rider behavior, interactions with other road users, and other valuable safety data.

Enhanced risks associated with riding on varying topographies and a need for increased safety education on the importance of wearing helmets while riding were among themes that arose from the initial study phase data.

“Data collected showed that transitioning between different surface types — such as to or from pavement to grass — is 60 times riskier than riding on flat pavement. We also noted that riding on rough or soft surfaces will at least double the risk of a crash or near crash. The risk is also three times as high when riding on grass,” said Michael Mollenhauer, director of the Division for Technology Implementation at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

“We are excited to bring a new, more robust scooter to campus. S-100 7th edition has dual kickstands for increased stability when parked, three independent braking systems, and dual suspension for smooth riding,” said John Lankford, head of campus partnerships at Spin. “A vast majority of incidents on campus in 2019 and 2020 were not caused by conflicts with pedestrians or other road users and could have been prevented with more safety education or features. This is why we are investing heavily in safety education and additional features for first time users like our slow ride mode.”

With safety paramount to the riding experience, since initial launch on the Blacksburg campus, Spin has integrated a host of new safety features in its app. For example, first-time riders will encounter an automatic speed reduction (10 MPH) during their initial ride. Riders will also need to complete a safety quiz on their first ride — and every 30 days. Quiz topics range from responsible parking, to scooter curfews, distracted riding, and more.

Another new safety feature is the intoxicated riding test. Riders may need to complete a series of tasks within the app to test their reaction time before checking out the scooter. Bolstered scooter safety operational enhancements like dual kickstands and hand brakes will also help ensure safe scooter riding and parking.

To mitigate the observed risky behavior, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the Alternative Transportation Department also offer the following tips for riders:

  • Never ride on grass or other unpaved surfaces. Use caution when travelling over ramps.
  • Wear a helmet when riding. Free helmets are provided at the Hokie Bike Hubinside the Perry Street Garage. Clip one to the outside of your backpack so you are ready to ride.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Get to know your scooter on a quiet street or paved area at a low speed before taking a longer or faster ride.

Electric-powered transportation at Virginia Tech

The e-scooters will join a number of electric transportation options available at the university this fall.

Bolstering usage of non-auto and multimodal transportation — such as e-scooters, e-bikes, buses, and more — is a goal highlighted throughout the campus master plan and 2020 Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment.

Spin e-scooters join the Bolt Mobility pedal assist e-bikes introduced earlier this summer, as electric-powered transportation options at Virginia Tech. And they aren’t the only ones visitors to Blacksburg can enjoy this fall. Five battery electric buses – added in celebration of Earth Day on April 22 – are in Blacksburg Transit’s rotation. Drivers of electric vehicles will soon be able to utilize student-proposed public electric vehicle charging stations in the Squires parking lot.

“We are excited to host a multitude of alternative transportation options here at Virginia Tech. Our collaboration with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Spin, Bolt, the Town of Blacksburg, Montgomery County, and others helps us reduce our overall single-occupancy-vehicle commuting to campus and transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions,” said Nick Quint, transportation network manager and interim fleet services manager.

E-scooter experience and safety reminders

  • Safety information: Up-to-date information on safety and operational information to operate the scooters, including costs to ride, can be found within the Spin appand on the Alternative Transportation website.
  • Safety video: Riders should watch the How to Spin Safe video.
  • Speed reductions – first ride: First-time riders will encounter an automatic speed reduction (10 MPH) during their ride.
  • Safety quiz: Riders will encounter a safety quiz on their first ride. The quiz will regenerate every 30 days.
  • Intoxicated riding test: Riders may receive an intoxicated riding test before to demonstrate reaction time.
  • Riders must follow all traffic laws, e-scooter campus regulations, and safety reminders, available on Virginia Tech’s Alternative Transportation website. This includes the new alternative transportation law in the Commonwealth of Virginia stating that “persons riding bicycles, electric personal assistive mobility devices, electric power-assisted bicycles, or motorized skateboards or scooters on a highway shall not ride more than two abreast.”

Operational details

  • Hours: E-scooters will be active from 7 a.m. to a half hour after sunset.
  • Where to ride: E-scooters must stay within campus limits and cannot be ridden in the Town of Blacksburg. Riders can view in the app where the available space to cruise is or refer to this map. If a rider attempts to use a scooter outside of campus limits, the scooter will automatically slow to a stop. The Spin app will continue charging the rider by the minute until the rider returns the scooter back to the geofenced area and closes out the ride in the app.
  • Both Spin e-scooters and personally owned e-scooters (and other electric personal mobility assisted devices) are not permitted inside university buildings. E-scooters and other electric personal mobility assisted devices may not be charged in university buildings or their exterior outlets.
  • E-scooters will be disabled and/or removed in the evenings and in advance of high-traffic events including home football games, commencement, and during inclement weather. E-scooter access on campus will be determined by the Virginia Tech Police Department chief and the vice president for enterprise administrative and business services and is subject to change.
  • Pricing: For a limited time, Spin is offering an Orientation Pass for riders to connect with friends and familiarize themselves with campus. Options include a 24-hour pass for $5 or a 7-day pass for $20 on e-scooters Aug. 19-30. Regularly, e-scooters will cost $1 to unlock, and 29 cents per minute. Users who finish their ride and park their scooter in a preferred parking zone (as noted in the mobile app) will receive a credit toward their next ride.

Questions about the e-scooter research initiative can be directed to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute at (540) 231-1500. Operational questions regarding scooters can be directed to the Alternative Transportation Department at (540) 231-2116 or gettingaround@vt.edu.


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