BLACKSBURG — As Virginia Tech students are zipping across campus on their new transportation toys, the town is beginning to consider laws in anticipation of electric scooters eventually spreading to non-university land.
Town Attorney Larry Spencer unveiled an early draft this week of proposed regulations for motorized scooters, skateboards and electrically assisted bicycles.
The proposed ordinance comes as e-scooters from Spin, a Ford Motor Company subsidiary, became available at Tech at the start of the semester as part of an 18-month study conducted by the university’s Transportation Institute (VTTI).
The draft also comes amid the growing nationwide popularity of e-scooters as alternative transportation.
During a town council work session Tuesday, Spencer described the scooters as “a very common sight” in major cities.
Spencer told town council that the General Assembly last year gave local governments the authority to regulate the usage of motorized wheeled devices.
“In the absence of such an ordinance, it’s open season,” he said.
Spencer’s presentation included photos of a random pile of scooters — which he described as an example of “scooter dumps” — and of scooters left unattended on a sidewalk.
Spencer used those photos to provide some reasons for why local regulations on scooters and other motorized devices are encouraged.
“They kind of have a Wild West attitude,” he said, referring to how some scooter companies begin operating in localities.
The town’s proposed regulations so far identify where motorized scooters and skateboards are prohibited and set a speed limit and a fine for violations.
Under the proposed ordinance, no person would be allowed to use a motorized skateboard or scooter on any town sidewalk.
Users wouldn’t be allowed to park those devices “in a manner that impedes the normal movement of pedestrian or other traffic or where such parking is prohibited by official traffic control devices,” according to the draft.
The speed limit for motorized scooters and skateboards would be 20 miles per hour and violations would result in a $25 fine.
The draft provides a definition for a motorized scooter and skateboard. The document describes them as vehicles designed to allow an operator to sit or stand, powered at least in part by an electric motor, weighs less than 100 pounds and travels no faster than 20 miles per hour on a paved surface when powered solely by the electric motor.
Additionally, the draft provides regulations for the establishment of an electric scooter operation in town.
The proposed ordinance requires anyone seeking to operate a “shared mobility system” within Blacksburg to first obtain a permit from town council. The operator would also be required to get a business license and pay the applicable local fees and taxes.
Companies operating without a permit would face a penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation.
To quality for a permit, companies would be required to meet a multitude of conditions, including state-mandated safety provisions such as headlights and taillights on the devices.
The ordinance would require each device to be equipped with an on-board GPS system capable of providing real-time location.
The ordinance would also require geofencing specifications aimed at directing users to designated parking areas. The draft says users shall not be allowed to sign out of their rides unless parked in a designated area.
A geofencing function is currently in place at Tech to prevent the Spin scooters from leaving the campus.
Council members this week expressed support for at least a few of the proposed regulations.
“Personally, I don’t think wheeled things should be on sidewalks,” Councilman John Bush said in reference to the potential dangers they pose to pedestrians. “I also think scooters should be corralled. They shouldn’t be anywhere.”
Citing his recent observations of the scooters at Tech, Bush voiced general openness to regulating the device’s usage.
“I drive around campus,” he said. “The scooters are everywhere. It’s kind of a free for all.”
Councilwoman Susan Mattingly, however, raised some concerns about the town’s ability to effectively enforce scooters when they do come. She pointed to current issues with some cyclists who don’t exactly follow the existing bicycle laws.
“If you have the rules on the books and nobody enforces, it’s pointless,” she said.
Spencer pointed to the geofencing function as a possible way to try to reduce violations. He also pointed to possible requirements that companies provide education on local laws.
So far, the Blacksburg Police Department has issued no citations in regard to the Tech scooters, according to Lt. John Goad.
Goad, the spokesman for Blacksburg police, said the department has recently spent time providing education on local traffic laws and on how the scooters aren’t allowed to leave campus.