Andrew Ringle, Managing Editor
A new model of Bolt Mobility’s dockless electric scooters is slated to roll into Richmond next month, the company’s vice president of operations announced.
The Bolt Chariot is a heavier, reinforced update to the current scooter design, equipped with rear and front brakes, undercarriage lights and a more balanced base. The new model made its trial debut in Richmond on Thursday evening after an informal panel discussion at Basic Beer Co. in Southside.
“Our next generation of scooters, the Chariot, has a much more robust design,” said Will Nicholas, Bolt’s VP of operations. “It’s intended to last much longer. … But I think a byproduct will be that it will be more challenging to misuse.”
Nicholas spoke at the panel alongside Wyatt Gordon, a reporter from the online blog Greater Greater Washington, and Lynne Lancaster, deputy director of parking and transportation at the Richmond Department of Public Works.
Bolt Mobility saw higher vandalism rates in Richmond than in any of its other markets during its first five weeks in the city, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Although the company paid roughly $45,000 to distribute 500 of its scooters, high vandalism rates have dwindled the fleet’s numbers.
“We have fewer than 300 right now,” Nicholas said. “Some of them are ridden to the point of exhaustion. Others, it’s been reported on, have been vandalized.”
Gordon, a transportation reporter who’s covered the industry in cities like Washington D.C., said electric scooters get a bad rap.
“They’re kind of the vape pens of the transportation sector,” Gordon said. “That’s because you look at users, and they tend to be younger people, they tend to skew male.”
Michael Calderon, a VCU student who uses an electric scooter to get around campus, said he chooses not to use Bolts because they lack endurance.
“They break down very easily,” Calderon said in a message, “and are then hackable very easily.”
Calderon said he’ll probably try the Chariot model in October, but afterward he’ll go back to using his own.
Other VCU students, such as sophomore Sam Musselman, have yet to try Bolt’s scooters since they arrived on campus.
“I own a bike actually, and I think that’s a cheaper way because you don’t have to pay for it,” the film major said.
Musselman says the scooters are effective, but there needs to be more regulation to prevent recklessness.
“They fly up behind you, they’re kind of quiet too,” he said. “I’ve seen people just leave them on the ground. They just fall over, they’re not stable.”
Bolt representatives met with VCU Police and Student Affairs during the summer to discuss the company’s distribution on campus. The police department’s associate vice president for public safety, John Venuti, led the meeting and spoke with Nicholas.
“Bolt staff explained how their program worked and shared their contact information,” said VCU Police spokesperson Corey Byers in an email. “AVP Venuti expressed the importance of scooters not obstructing mobility for patients on the MCV Campus.”
Bolt scooters aren’t stacked in the medical campus in order to avoid obstructing ambulances and commuting medical employees, Nicholas said. The university also prohibits the use of motorized vehicles at Shafer Court and Linden Court.
“Police leadership let Bolt know that stolen or vandalized scooter incidents would be criminally investigated, just as any other report of larceny or vandalism on VCU’s campuses,” Byers said.