Scooter operator bolts out of Richmond

Bolt Mobility was the first to receive a license to operate e-scooters in Richmond. (BizSense file photos)

An e-scooter provider has unplugged from Richmond.

Bolt Mobility, the first licensed scooter company to roll into the area in 2019, informed the city on June 7 that it was ceasing local operations.

Bolt’s permit officially expires on Aug. 1, according to Brandon King, program and operations supervisor at the Department of Public Works, which regulates scooters in the city.

King, in email, also confirmed that Helbiz, another scooter company with devices in Richmond, did not renew its permit once it expired on Jan. 26.

The city could not provide the reasons for the departures, as providers are not required to report such information.

Bolt and Helbiz could not be reached for comment by press time.

It appears that Bolt has vacated other markets around the country, including in California and Vermont, according to news reports. Meanwhile, when trying to request a scooter through the Bolt app, a message encourages users to do so in 30 other countries, such as France, Nigeria or South Africa, but not in the US

When it was still operating, King said Bolt deployed 124 scooters a day and paid $30,000 a year to renew its licensing. The fee is based on how many devices a provider is allowed in the city and the price has not changed since the program was initiated.

On average, Helbiz deployed 100 devices a day.

The two departures have left Lime and Bird as the only e-scooter companies still licensed in the city. The scooter trend began in 2018, when Bird released its devices in Richmond without the city’s prior approval, causing them to get impounded and prompting the creation of a licensing system.

The city is currently reviewing applications for new mobility operators, King said.

“Overall, the program is thriving and constitutes a vital transportation option for thousands of Richmonders each month,” he said.

Helbiz did not renew its permit when it expired on Jan. 26.

He added that the Shared Mobility Device ordinance may be amended to extend scooter operating hours and promote a more equitable device distribution. As of right now, the city allows scooters to be ridden between 5 am and 9 pm

Bolt Mobility was leasing office space at 3310 Rosedale Ave. It’s unclear where Helbiz was located in the region, but permitting requires each provider to have a physical space.

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works has also been involved in expanding Richmond’s bikeshare program, initiated in 2017.

Aiming to eventually create a citywide fleet of 440 bikes and 40 docking stations, Richmond has continued developing the needed infrastructure. It currently has 21 stations, King said, with the most recent installations at Fairmont Pool, Broad Rock Library, Battery Park Pool and North Avenue Library.

It continues construction in five other locations: Carter Jones Park, Scott’s Addition, Powhatan Community Center, Dominion Energy Center and Blackwell Pool.

King also noted other planned locations, such as in Forest Hill Park and Ann Hardy Plaza in Northside, as well as a number of libraries. The department has partnered with Richmond Public Library to provide bicycles to disadvantaged communities.

Alongside the expansion, the department is working to transform the makeup of its bike fleet into electric pedal assist by 2023. So far, there are over 200 bicycles in operation.

“We believe e-bikes are a game changer in public transportation, particularly in a city as hilly as Richmond,” King wrote.

Overall, RVA Bikeshare has seen a general uptick in usage since 2021. A year prior, each month averaged 1,269 trips and 2,410 ridden miles. So far this year, there are 1,152 monthly trips, averaging 2,842 miles.

In fiscal year 2022, the program will cost the city $411,000. The general fund provided $180,000, while $141,000 came from the Central Virginia Transportation Authority fund. An additional $90,000 was taken from e-scooter permit revenue.

Riders have a number of fee options, ranging from a $1.75 one-way pass to a $96 annual membership.

While the fleet is owned by the city, Bewegen Technologies is contracted to maintain the bikes.

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