June 6, 2019

The Scooters Are Coming: Inside Richmond’s Pilot Program with Bolt


The scooters cometh.

At long last, the City of Richmond handed out its first e-scooter operator license, and Bolt was first in line. The Florida-based startup plans to launch a fleet of scooters Thursday, aiming for about 500 vehicles and 12 full-time employees on the ground in RVA.

The Department of Public Works issued the permit under a pilot program that allows dockless vehicle companies to operate in the city, with fees and regulations attached.

Bolt will deploy 500 scooters — the per-company maximum for the year-long pilot program — after paying the city $45,000. It was one of three companies that completed an application to the city, a Public Works spokeswoman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The announcement comes three months after competitor Lime had an application approved to roll out in Richmond, and 10 months after California-based Bird scattered scooters throughout downtown, only to have them scooped up by the city. Jump, an e-scooter company owned by Uber, also has shown interest in the city.

Meanwhile, a new competitor, Joy, is planning to roll out 100 scooters in town in late June – with or without the pilot program. The startup rents space on private properties for scooter docking stations (starting locally with five 7-Eleven parking lots), so it needs fewer permits from local governments to get going.

City Council approved the pilot program in January. To operate in Richmond, companies will pay $1,500 to apply for a permit and will pay an annual fee based on their vehicle count. It’s $20,000 for 100 scooters or fewer, $30,000 for 101 to 200 scooters and $45,000 for 201 to 500 scooters.

According to the pilot’s guidelines, companies will be allowed to increase the number of scooters by 25 percent each quarter for $72 apiece. On the consumer side, Richmond riders can use dockless vehicles between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m., in the street and in bike lanes. The vehicles cannot exceed 15 mph.

These types of city-run programs have so far produced mixed results for startups looking to deploy electric scooters.

In Minneapolis, fewer than half of the 2,000 e-scooters permitted for streets in 2019 have rolled out so far and Jump ditched the city’s pilot program. In Atlanta, the city created light regulations after several companies deployed hundreds of scooters last year, and residents are now taking more than 11,000 trips a day. And pilot programs in Tampa Bay and Chicago are slated to begin this summer.