Campus

Launching a Living Lab for Micromobility with Virginia Tech

By Ted Sweeney, Senior Special Projects Manager

It’s only year two of the “scooter boom” — and we still have a tremendous amount to learn.

As almost 40 million people took to the streets on electric scooters last year, many questions arose: How can we ensure the safety of all road users as they share spaces designed for cars? What elements contribute to a good or bad rider experience? When and why do people choose to ride scooters over other transportation options?

The electric scooter and micromobility industry is in desperate need of studies that will enable city leaders, institutions, operators and any other stakeholders to make informed decisions about how to integrate these new innovations into the fabric of our transportation networks and transit systems.

That’s why we are excited to be launching an unprecedented partnership with Virginia Tech University this week. In addition to rolling out the largest university scooter-share program in the country, we are tapping into the university’s local research talent to study the usage of electric scooters on college campuses. In partnership with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), Spin is rolling out 300 electric scooters on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus.

VTTI is equipping 50 of the scooters with forward-facing cameras and other research equipment, allowing researchers to record and analyze trends in rider behavior and interactions with other road users and existing infrastructure. The cameras will record the area directly in front of the riders. At the end of the ride, riders can choose to take a survey about their experience, which will inform the data and qualitative research. Other surveys are being conducted among the campus community in general, to understand both rider and non-rider perceptions. The results of the study will be analyzed by VTTI.

We believe that college campuses are an important place to conduct research for a few reasons. They can help future college and professional campuses:

  • Manage their use of space, especially as it relates to car parking, scooter/bike parking, and communal areas;
  • Learn what kinds of policies and educational outreach work for generating desirable behavior;
  • Decide where to deploy, and how many students per vehicle might be an appropriate number given the usage;
  • Understand what kind of infrastructure makes sense for both riding and parking; and
  • Predict how graduating college students and younger generations will use mobility options as they move on to urban areas.

The study aims to answer important questions that haven’t yet been addressed:

  • What portion of people in a community see scooters as an option for them? How might demographic factors influence these attitudes, and how might they change over time as scooters operate?
  • What kinds of interactions occur between scooter riders and drivers of cars? Between scooter riders and pedestrians?
  • What choices do scooter riders make about where to ride? When do they choose to be in a bike lane versus sharing the road, and when do they utilize sidewalks?
  • What are the most popular use cases — speeding up the distance between classes, connecting from far-flung parking lots or transit stops?
  • How do issues with the roads and paths — cracks, bumps, crevices, uneven surfaces — impact the vehicle and rider?
  • What portion of riders engage in unsafe behaviors that might make crashes and near misses more likely?
  • What times are people more likely to ride scooters, and can we correlate geofencing and hour limitations to reduce safety incidents?

VTTI is a pioneer in researching transportation modes that reduce incidents and promote sustainability — and it’s exciting to have an academic partner deliver tangible insights that will change the way we build and deploy our vehicles. We look forward to servicing the Virginia Tech community, and to building more environments that give more people the freedom to move.

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