The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) will team up with Spin, a dockless mobility system, to bring electric scooters on campus for a pilot study on naturalistic scooter-riding starting Sept. 1.
“Virginia Tech is committed to offering a wide variety of alternative transportation options,” said Virginia Tech Vice President for Operations Sherwood Wilson in a press release. “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.”
Three hundred scooters will be available. VTTI will provide research equipment such as forward-facing cameras on 50 scooters, and up to 20 fixed cameras will be placed on campus for more footage of scooter interactions. Some of the interactions the researchers will look for include rider behavior, behavior of those around scooter riders and other data on safety.
In addition, the scooters cost $1 to unlock and are charged 15 cents per minute during use, according to The Roanoke Times. They will be available starting 7 a.m. until a half-hour after sunset. However, they will be locked at night and in advance of “high-traffic events” like football games and graduation, as well as during inclement weather.
The e-scooters will be controlled by a geofence that will restrict them to a maximum speed of 15 mph and only 5 mph on the Drillfield paths. The geofencing will also keep the e-scooters within campus limits and slow down and automatically stop if a rider tries using it around Blacksburg. If a rider is outside the campus limits, the Spin app will continue charging them until the e-scooter is back on campus and the rider closes out the app.
In general, the e-scooters fall under Bicycles and Personal Transportation Devices under Virginia Tech policy and have similar rules. However, e-scooters will not be allowed in parking garages and also are not allowed in university-owned or leased buildings anywhere in the world. They “must be parked within 5 feet of an approved bicycle rack or at designated zones on campus” according to the policy.
The first period of the research will end mid-December. The entire study will take 18 months, with 12 months of scooter operations and a review period over the remaining six months.
“This trial period gives us a unique and important opportunity to critically examine micro-mobility, a rapidly developing form of transportation,” said Michael Mollenhauer, director of VTTI’s Center for Technology Implementation and the principal investigator of the study. “VTTI’s innovative data collection capabilities will make it possible to assess mobility impacts while identifying opportunities to improve safety.”
A grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation University Transportation Centers program, called the Safety Through Disruption National UTC, is also funding the study at Virginia Tech. The total cost of the study is $467,126, The Roanoke Times stated.
There will be a kick-off event Sept. 3 hosted by the company Spin on campus, which will include helmet giveaways, scooter demonstrations and safety information, according to VT News.
Spin is a company owned by Ford and is available in 47 cities and campuses. Some of the other campuses Spin is located on include the University of Michigan, Purdue University, Vanderbilt University and Duke University. Spin seeks to offer safe, affordable, accessible and environmentally-friendly transportation options for personal mobility, according to its website.