BLACKSBURG — The Blacksburg Town Council, on a 6-0 vote Tuesday night, passed regulations governing the use of electric scooters and the companies that specialize in renting out the devices.
The new rules, which also cover electric bikes and motorized skateboards, come on the heels of Spin, a Ford Motor Company subsidiary, launching an e-scooter service at Virginia Tech as part of an 18-month study by the university’s Transportation Institute.
Blacksburg’s ordinance also comes amid the recent arrival of another e-scooter service in Roanoke. Scooter market leader Lime launched in Roanoke last month with a fleet of 100 scooters and made plans at the time to grow that network of devices to 400.
Radford is another locality in the region that is currently considering new ordinances for e-scooters.
Blacksburg town attorney Larry Spencer said weeks ago that the absence of local e-scooter regulations opened the door for operators to launch services unchecked.
Spencer said an ordinance aims to prevent potential nuisances such as the negligent piling of scooters at various spots in town — not an uncommon issue in other cities.
“In the past, there have been companies that have dumped them and it’s created problems,” Spencer said during the council meeting Tuesday. “This year, the General Assembly gave local governments the very expressed authority to regulate in that area.”
Some cities — where scooters are much more frequent — are currently facing legal challenges related to potential ADA violations due to troubles with controlling scooter operations, Spencer said.
Among the new rules passed Tuesday, the use of e-scooters is not allowed in downtown Blacksburg.
While e-scooters will have to follow motor vehicle speed limits, the town is imposing a limit of 15 miles per hour for the devices on off-street bicycle paths such as the Huckleberry Trail. That off-street trail limit also applies to electric bicycles and motorized skateboards.
Blacksburg’s ordinance also includes conditions for an e-scooter operation, which would need a town permit before launching.
Among those is a requirement that operators apply geofencing functions to keep e-scooters and other similar devices out of specified areas of town. That geofencing function will aim to keep the devices from operating on streets or highways where they can’t be safely operated, according to the ordinance.
Additionally, devices found to be in violation of the ordinance’s “safe riding and parking” section will be subject to removal by a town-contracted towing service.
“I think it can be very positive,” Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith said, referring to a citizen comment Tuesday supporting the use of alternative transportation devices. “A town with … limited roads needs to pay a lot of attention to alternative transportation, bicycle facilities and encouraging those behaviors.”
Councilman John Bush, while supportive of the new ordinance, said the new ordinance shouldn’t overshadow the need to still prioritize the protection of pedestrians.
“I’m not really in favor of these devices being on sidewalks,” he said.
In Radford, city officials are beginning to consider e-scooter and motorized skateboard regulations. The city is proposing specific rules for both e-scooter use and companies that rent out the devices.
For motorized scooters and skateboards, Radford is proposing to add the devices to the current ordinance on roller skates and skateboards.
Among the places in Radford where e-scooters would be prohibited are the walkways at Bisset Park, according to the city’s draft ordinance.
Companies that rent out scooters would also need a permit from the city before launching their service, a process that would require a nonrefundable application fee of $500, according to the proposed ordinance.