A Miami-based company is the first applicant hoping to bring dockless scooters in Roanoke.
Bolt Mobility aims to deploy 400 of the electric scooters across the city when its application is approved, according to its application. The company was recently the first to obtain a permit to operate in Richmond.
Chris Chittum, Roanoke’s director of planning, building and development, said the application is being reviewed by a range of city departments, including his, transportation, the police and parks and recreation, and Bolt Mobility already has submitted a revised proposal.
It’s unclear when approval might come from the city manager, Chittum said. Since it’s the first time through the process, city officials are working through it carefully.
The Roanoke City Council approved regulations in June for the scooters, which are in wide use in major cities and are now filtering down to smaller markets. The two-wheeled, battery-powered vehicles are typically activated by a smartphone app and the user pays a fee per minute. Users just leave the scooters at their destination for another user to find and ride it.
While increasingly popular, the scooters have been controversial, too, drawing complaints that they litter city sidewalks and are unsafe for users and pedestrians alike.
Under a new state law, Virginia localities can’t ban the scooters but may regulate them. Roanoke, for instance, requires a permit fee of $5,000 per year.
Bolt Mobility is paying Richmond $45,000 to roll out a fleet of 500 scooters, including approximately 35% targeted for low income neighborhoods, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The cost for users is 25 cents per mile in Richmond, the newspaper reported.
Chittum said Lime, one of the more recognizable scooter brands, is also interested in operating in Roanoke.
According to its application, Bolt Mobility has scooters in 13 cities, including Los Angeles, Portland, Washington, D.C., and Richmond.
Bolt’s scooters are distinct for having a foot platform on each side of the center rail so riders face forward. They have a maximum speed of 15 mph, according to the application.
Half of the scooters will be deployed downtown, the application said, along Salem, Campbell, Church and Kirk avenues, Market Street and Franklin Road.
Other locations listed include near the Berglund Center, the Franklin Road commercial corridor south of the river, South Roanoke, the Grandin Village, Melrose Avenue, Valley View Mall and Jamison Avenue.
The application also lists “equity zones” in Roanoke where a third of the scooters will be deployed, including the West End, Landsdowne public housing complex, the Lincoln Terrace area and Tazewell Avenue.
Those locations are subject to change based on actual use, the application says.
Bolt will use “geofencing” to bar users from riding or parking the scooters in prohibited areas, such as on greenways.
Users venturing near such areas will get a notification, and if they continue, power to the scooter will shut off, the application said.
Users who try to park the scooter in prohibited areas will be alerted and fined if they leave the scooter there anyway.
While most users will access the scooters via a smartphone app and pay digitally for rides, Bolt has a cash payment option for users who don’t have bank accounts or credit cards, and a method for starting a scooter for users who don’t have a smartphone.
The company also offers a 50% discount to low-income customers, the application says.
Chittum said he’s already seen help wanted ads from the company seeking local employees.
The company uses local mechanics and “boosters” who collect the scooters, charge them and redeploy them each night.
The company’s vehicles in Richmond have required more attention than expected. In its first month of operation there this summer, Bolt said, it has seen a quarter of its fleet of scooters vandalized — broken in half, set on fire and thrown into the James River.
Chittum said the company is planning rider safety sessions as part of its public launch.
“They have resources and motivation to do a lot of PR [public relations] with these things,” he said.