U.Va. to enforce new electric scooter policy to limit safety concerns

The University is working with e-scooter companies to educate and enforce safe, respectful riding on Grounds

mbb-0515

College student Emma Klein rides a lime scooter.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

From the introduction of 200 Lime electric scooters to Charlottesville in November 2018 to the addition of 100 more Bird electric scooters this January, the University and City of Charlottesville are embracing the e-scooter trend. However, concerns among University officials remain regarding the safety of e-scooters on Grounds.

The University currently encourages students to park e-bikes and e-scooters at existing UBike stations, such as those outside Clark Hall, Newcomb Hall, the Aquatic & Fitness Center and elsewhere around Grounds. UBike is a bike share system established by the University that allows students to rent bicycles for transportation on and around Grounds.

According to Wes Hester, the deputy University spokesperson, U.Va. is still working on its exact policy on e-scooter parking. 

Hester also stated that the University requested through the City that e-scooter companies limit usage in “key sensitive areas like the Lawn and sidewalks.” 

The e-scooters and e-bikes — which have become a regular sight around Grounds, on the Corner and the Downtown Mall — are currently regulated internally by the companies and externally by the Charlottesville Police Department.

Lime warns users against leaving e-vehicles in no-parking zones, which may result in a fine or suspension from using the service.

For Lime, unlocking a vehicle costs $1 and then an additional 15 cents per minute through the mobile app. Bird scooters are marginally more expensive, costing $1 to unlock and 20 cents per minute to use. Both companies require riders to register an account using their respective mobile app. Upon registration — which requires a valid drivers license — users can unlock any scooter or bike associated with the company and ride it until they are finished, at which point they park the dockless scooter or bike and end the ride through the mobile application.

Upon opening up the Lime application — which shows where all the e-scooters and e-bikes are parked — scooters and bikes can be found within areas that are off-limits, including Central Grounds, first-year dormitories, North Grounds and areas around John Paul Jones Arena.

“They add another way to get around grounds that's not too expensive,” third-year College student Seth Hochman said in a Twitter message. “I don't ride them into grounds because of the red lines/boundaries so when I ride them I ride them back to where I live which is on Grady Ave.”

First-year College student Sara Massei also noted that the boundaries established on the Lime app have deterred her. “I’ve never been fined [because] it clearly tells you the areas where you can and can’t park … as long as you ride smart (i.e., sober, not on ice, follow street laws) you’re good to go!” Massei said in a Twitter message.

Under Virginia law, it is illegal “for any person to operate an e-scooter with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more by weight by volume or 0.08 grams or more per 210 liters of breath.” According to Lieutenant Miller Stoddard of the Albemarle County Police Department, e-scooters are defined as motor vehicles — and riders can be cited for a DUI.

“For the purposes of Virginia Code, a motor is defined as gas, Diesel and/or electric powered,” Stoddard said in an email statement.

While students like Hochman and Massei respect the boundaries established by Lime and the University, as well as the laws established by the State and City, other students say they do not.

“I drive them wherever I please,” third-year College student Henry Hollandsworth said in a Twitter message. When asked to elaborate, Hollandsworth stated that he drives scooters on sidewalks — where they are barred — and roads, always without a helmet. 

Both Lime and Bird recommend helmet usage but do not require it. Rather, the responsibility to determine helmet requirements is made by local and state legislatures. In Charlottesville, the City Code requires only individuals who are 14 years of age and younger to ride with a helmet on bicycles and e-scooters. 

The City also further regulates the scooters by limiting them to a speed of 15 miles per hour. Additionally, according to an online information sheet provided by the City’s Department of Neighborhood Services, e-scooter and dockless bike usage is prohibited on the bricked areas of the Downtown Mall, the Corner and Court Square. Scooters are also expected to obey all traffic laws that a motor vehicle would — stopping at stop signs and red lights, as well as not interfering with pedestrians on the sidewalk. 

Hester noted that the University is working with the e-scooter companies on safety issues.

“Both companies have offered to help educate and reinforce safe and respectful riding in the city and on Grounds,” Hester said.

The issue of e-scooters driving on the sidewalk is of particular annoyance to second-year Engineering student Skyler Moon. 

“As a runner, they make running around [Charlottesville] more dangerous than it already is,” Moon said in a Twitter message. “Several times I have been minding my own business only to be cut off or almost ran into by somebody on a scooter who missed the fact that they are not supposed to be on sidewalks. They are also left in groups on sidewalks where they restrict the ability of people to walk/run on the sidewalk and present a tripping hazard.”

However, despite reports of scooters mounting the sidewalks, no scooter-related tickets have been issued by University Police since the scooters were introduced to Grounds last November, Hester said.

First-year College student Aly Rayle said she has a separate issue with the e-scooters — specifically Lime — for erroneously charging her twice.

“When I woke up the next morning, I opened the Lime app only to realize my ride never properly ended and it said that my ride had lasted until 7am. I was charged nearly $50 for a ride that was supposedly 5 hours long,” Rayle said in a Twitter message. She is currently working to dispute the charges.

Although e-scooters have presented new challenges for the University and City, some students say they are glad to have them.

“I think they’re an awesome alternative form of transportation for when buses aren’t running, are infrequent, or you don’t want to spend so much money on an Uber,” Massei said.

This article previously stated e-scooters and e-bikes were off-limits at the Darden School of Law. A more accurate description would read they are off-limits on North Grounds. The article has been updated.

related stories