HARRISONBURG — With a second scooter company soon on the way to the Friendly City, James Madison University plans to continue enforcing its rules to keep the campus safe and efficient to get around.
Bolt Mobility, a new scooter company founded in Miami in 2018 and backed by Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, applied and was issued a permit on May 22 to conduct business within the city.
Bolt Mobility will be allowed 100 scooters upon arrival. According to its city website, the company has three different kinds of scooters: Bolt Original, Bolt One and Bolt Chariot.
The electric scooters can be checked out by anyone 18 or older through apps on smartphones for a fee. When riders are done, they leave the scooters for the next person to pick up.
Bolt Mobility will be joining Bird in the city, although Bird took its scooters out of the city within a few weeks of the JMU school year ending, according to the city’s director of communications, Michael Parks.
“Bird is out now until likely around the start of the coming school year,” he said. “We have not heard from Bolt regarding that.”
Attempts to reach Bolt to clarify when it would release its scooters into the city went unanswered.
Bird is currently the only share-riding company occupying Harrisonburg. Lime scooters vacated following City Council’s approval of the permit requirement.
Caitlyn Read, JMU’s deputy spokesperson and associate director of communications, said that JMU has had meetings with the scooter companies to work collaboratively toward making the scooter use on campus safe for everyone.
“For example, to protect accessibility, the university does not want scooters parked in a way that blocks sidewalks and building entrances,” Read said. “We have worked to communicate this with students but have also worked with one of the scooter companies to have the app direct riders to park the scooters in designated areas out of the way of pedestrian traffic at the end of their trip.”
JMU spokesman Bill Wyatt said in January that the transportation department worked with Bird in October to geofence — or digitally restrict — scooters from being ridden or parked in high-traffic areas.
Those areas included near Zane Showker Hall, Bridgeforth Stadium and Godwin Transit Center.
Bird programmed the scooters to shut off if a person tried riding in those areas.
Read said the university is not planning to use the geofence again in the fall and instead will just monitor the activity and block off the area around the stadium and Godwin Transit Center if need be.
Students will also be responsible for having their own safety equipment. Bolt and Bird do not require the user to wear a helmet or any other protective gear.
JMU will continue to enforce safe driving practices by having the JMU Police Department monitoring scooter users as part of their routine patrol.
“With the addition of scooters to campus, JMUPD urges everyone to be alert and aware and to pay attention to their surroundings,” Read said.
The JMUPD did not respond to calls requesting information on any past issues they have had with students misusing the scooters.
Electric scooters have been the talk of the city ever since California-based Bird and Lime scooters entered the city’s streets last fall, bringing almost 700 scooters at one point.
Because of the chaos and frustration businesses and residents had due to companies dropping the scooters off by hundreds, the City Council moved to establish a permit in February to have more control over the way scooters are regulated within city limits.
As part of the requirements, operators are limited to 100 scooters or equal to the average number of riders per day during a three-week period divided by four. If the average is higher than four rides per scooter per day, the companies will be allowed to place additional devices.
City Council adopted permit regulations to be set in place for a 12-month trial period designed to give city staff the chance to observe if they are working as intended. After the trial ends in February 2020, either party can request a three-month extension if the city hasn’t already put together a permanent ordinance.