BLACKSBURG — The scooters are here.
That would be the electric ones, which have been popular and controversial on city streets across the country, that were made available Sunday for use on Virginia Tech’s campus as part of an 18-month study conducted by the university’s Transportation Institute (VTTI).
E-scooters from Ford Motor Company subsidiary Spin will be usable on Virginia Tech’s campus starting at 7 a.m. until a half-hour after sunset each day, and will be removed at night and in advance of “high-traffic events” like football game weekends, graduation and during inclement weather. Their movement is restricted to campus by a geofence that will cause them to slow to a stop when they leave Tech.
More than 3,000 scooter trips were recorded since Sunday, according to Chitti Raju, operations lead for Spin in Blacksburg.
VTTI researchers will gather data from the scooters as well as from cameras mounted on some and fixed in high traffic areas to conduct a study of their interactions. Tech officials will examine the rollout and determine their long-term future following the study’s completion.
The scooters, though, are already proving popular with students who’ve tested them out. Colie Touzel, a graduate student studying urban planning, said that the scooters offer an interesting way to get around.
“I think I’ll ride the scooters again,” Touzel said after giving one a test ride. “They are fun and people will use them.”
Rui Fang, a student originally from China, already owns a scooter. He showed it off Tuesday afternoon.
“My scooter is my car,” Fang said with a smile.
Adding rental scooters will only increase their popularity around campus because privately owned scooters are an increasingly common sight, the sophomore said. Their ease and the ability to use rentals — at the cost of $1 to unlock and 15 cents a minute to operate — will only make scooters more appealing, he said.
“If you can ride a bike you can ride a scooter,” Fang said. “Everybody can do that.”
About 100 are on campus this week as Tech gears up to introduce 300 for the study over the next several weeks. First, the goal is to gauge the popularity and see where people are using them, Raju said.
Raju is a former employee of Tech’s alternative transportation office and he said he’ll continue that work with Spin, hyper-focused on giving students, faculty and staff an opportunity to use scooters.
“This is a great way to get people out of cars,” he said.
University policy requires users to park them either near bike racks or in other designated areas. Raju said when users park their scooters, they will be prompted to take a picture to make sure the scooter is parked properly, and when the next person picks it up, they’ll be prompted to report what condition the scooter is in to ensure that it’s parked properly.
The scooters are treated similarly to bicycles, according to the university policy. People can use them on all roads, paths, grass and sidewalks, “with the exception of times when there is heavy pedestrian traffic on sidewalks and pathways.” During those times, riders are supposed to dismount their scooters and walk. Scooters are barred from use in parking garages or buildings.
The VTTI study period is slated to last 18 months, with scooters operational for a year.
“The resulting data will be used to assess impacts on safety, nuisance, and mobility, identify unique countermeasures to problems associated with e-scooter deployments where possible, and generate deployment requirements and guidelines for future open competition,” according to a summary of the study published on the Transportation Research Board’s website.
The $467,126 study is being funded by the Safety Through Disruption National UTC, a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers program, as well as by matching funds from Spin.
The scooters are a welcome addition to Blacksburg, said Cat Woodson, community manager for Roam, the bike share rental company that operates in the New River Valley.
Though they might technically be competition, the two rental outfits will grow symbiotically, attracting people to ride the scooters during the day and the bicycles in the evening, Woodson said.
“They fit in really well campus culture-wise,” Woodson said.