Electric scooters roll onto Virginia Tech campus for pilot study


electric scooters

The Virginia Tech Blacksburg campus will serve as a living-learning laboratory for VTTI’s e-scooter initiative.

This fall, Virginia Tech students and faculty will be able to use electric scooters (e-scooters) to cruise around campus while also contributing to research.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) is partnering with Ford-owned micromobility company Spin to conduct a naturalistic driving study of scooter riders on Virginia Tech’s campus. Starting on Sept. 1, 300 e-scooters will be available at university ride-share stations for check-out using the Spin app for short commutes across campus.

As part of a pilot research initiative, VTTI is equipping 50 of the scooters with forward-facing cameras and other research equipment, allowing researchers to record and analyze trends in rider behavior, interactions with other road users, and other valuable safety data. The cameras will record the area directly in front of riders. However, with approval from the Institutional Review Board, up to 20 fixed cameras will also be placed in public places around campus to capture additional footage of scooter interactions.

The pilot program will last a total of 18 months. Scooters will be operational for 12 months, with a review of the research occurring over a six-month period.

Spin offers electric scooters in more than 45 cities and campuses. A subsidiary of Ford, Spin remains committed to rigorous safety protocols and constantly refines and updates its products and deployment methods to make the experience of riding electric vehicles more orderly, safe, and joyful. The company believes that academic research into micromobility is needed to provide cities and colleges with the information necessary to govern dockless programs.

The project is also funded in part by the Safety Through Disruption National UTC, a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers program.

As e-scooters continue to be introduced into cities and campuses worldwide, research can help improve the safety of scooter riders and other road users, such as pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclists. It is also important for riders, as they share the streets with cars and other larger vehicles, to be aware of the risks and best practices for mitigating them. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 45 percent of e-scooter accidents resulted in head injuries, many of which could have been prevented if the riders had been wearing helmets. Only 3 percent of riders reported using a helmet “Always/Often,” according to research by Virginia Tech’s Urban Affairs and Planning Studio.

A kick-off and safety event will be hosted by Spin Sept. 3 on the Blacksburg campus. The event will feature helmet giveaways, scooter demonstrations, information around safe riding resources, and more. Details will be posted on the Alternative Transportation website and on the Virginia Tech Events Calendar as they become available.

The current study aims to educate riders and provide data that municipalities can use to incorporate e-scooters safely into their communities and infrastructure, according to Michael Mollenhauer, director of VTTI’s Center for Technology Implementation. Mollenhauer is the principal investigator of the study. Further, the study could also shed light on the various user preferences and infrastructural needs of scooter riders and other sustainable transit users.

“This trial period gives us a unique and important opportunity to critically examine micromobility, a rapidly developing form of transportation. VTTI’s innovative data collection capabilities will make it possible to assess mobility impacts while identifying opportunities to improve safety. By restricting the operations of the e-scooters via geofencing, our team plans to study scooter use under realistic, yet controlled conditions on campus. We hope the data from this study can serve as a safety resource for all road users, as well as for other campuses, cities, and towns that might be considering deploying e-scooters on a wider scale,” said Mollenhauer.

The research team is also interested in gaining feedback from the campus community on a regular basis as the study progresses. The first survey can be found at https://virginiatech.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4SZFawEMGWYXd65. Those who complete the survey will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a $50 check.

The first phase of the pilot study ends in mid-December.

The Blacksburg campus will serve as a living-learning laboratory for the e-scooter initiative. Ensuring the safety of riders and the campus community will be paramount to all e-scooter efforts as the pilot program progresses.

“Virginia Tech is committed to offering a wide variety of alternative transportation options. Throughout the research initiative, we will continue to identify and evaluate strategies that maximize the safety of riders, pedestrians, drivers, and the greater university community,” said Virginia Tech Vice President for Operations Sherwood Wilson.

“The Town of Blacksburg has been engaged in discussions with Virginia Tech regarding the possibility of bringing the scooter research project to campus from the onset. While the scooters will only operate on campus, we look forward to being able to leverage the results of the research to guide the town’s future decision making around alternative transportation options in Blacksburg,” said Blacksburg Town Manager Marc Verniel.

E-scooter rules and safety guidelines

Riders must follow all e-scooter campus regulations and safety reminders, available at Virginia Tech’s Alternative Transportation website. The regulations for guiding e-scooter operations on campus were developed by a steering committee comprised of leaders from VTTI, Virginia Tech Police, Operations, Parking and Transportation, Emergency Management, Legal Counsel, and others.

First-time riders are strongly encouraged to watch the How to Spin Safe video.

Geofencing will be used to restrict all e-scooters to a maximum speed of 15 mph on campus and to walking speed (5 mph or less) on the Drillfield paths specifically. E-scooters must stay within campus limits and cannot be ridden in the Town of Blacksburg. Riders can also view in the app where the ‘on-limits’ areas are. 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 he or she returns the scooter back to the geofenced area and closes out the ride in the app.

E-scooters will be active from 7 a.m. to a half hour after sunset. Additionally, e-scooters will be removed from campus 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 operations and is subject to change.

A list of operational guidelines can be found here.

Up-to-date information on requirements to operate the scooters, including costs to ride, can be found within the Spin app.

Safety reminders for operating scooters on campus can be found here.

View the scooter deployment map where scooters can be picked up and dropped off on campus here. Please note, locations are subject to change. Click here for the scooter geofence campus limits map.

Questions about the e-scooter research initiative can be directed to VTTI 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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