Virginia Tech starts electric scooter program

Virginia Tech University will make e-scooters available for campus use starting September. (Virginia Tech)

Electric scooters are starting to gain traction as a mode of transportation, but so far, research on their viability has been scant. Starting in September, Virginia Tech University’s Blacksburg campus will serve as a trial for an e-scooter initiative sponsored by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).

Under the program,  VTTI is partnering with Ford-owned micromobility company Spin to conduct a driving study of scooter riders on Virginia Tech’s campus. Initially, 300 e-scooters will be available at university ride-share stations for check-out using the Spin app for short commutes across campus.

Fifty of these scooters will have forward-facing cameras, accelerometers, and gyroscopes that will enable researchers to record and analyze trends in rider behavior, interactions with other road users, and other safety data. The cameras will record the area directly in front of riders. In addition, however, up to 20 fixed cameras will also be placed in public places around campus to record additional footage of scooter interactions.

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The pilot program will last a total of 18 months. The scooters will be operational for 12 months, with a review of the research occurring over a six-month period.

Spin, a subsidiary of Ford, now offers electric scooters in more than 45 cities and campuses. The company advocates conducting academic research into micromobility to provide cities and colleges with the information necessary to govern dockless programs.  

The current study aims to educate riders and provide data that municipalities can use to incorporate e-scooters safely into their communities and infrastructure, according to Michael Mollenhauer, director of VTTI’s Center for Technology Implementation and principal investigator of the study. The study could also shed light on the various user preferences and infrastructural needs of scooter riders and other sustainable transit users.

“This trial period gives us a unique and important opportunity to critically examine micromobility, a rapidly developing form of transportation,” said Mollenhauer in a statement. “VTTI’s innovative data collection capabilities will make it possible to assess mobility impacts while identifying opportunities to improve safety. By restricting the operations of the e-scooters via geofencing, our team plans to study scooter use under realistic, yet controlled conditions on campus. We hope the data from this study can serve as a safety resource for all road users, as well as for other campuses, cities, and towns that might be considering deploying e-scooters on a wider scale,” Mollenhauer added.

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