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Electric bike-share program in New River Valley abruptly shuts down

Outside the Christiansburg Recreation Center, near the Huckleberry Trail, a sign is posted beside an empty bike rack that reads: “Do not attempt to rent/use the bikes.” The bikes themselves appear to have disappeared. Aug 2, 2022.
Roxy Todd/ Radio IQ
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Outside the Christiansburg Recreation Center, near the Huckleberry Trail, a sign is posted beside an empty bike rack that reads: “Do not attempt to rent/use the bikes.” The bikes themselves appear to have disappeared. Aug 2, 2022.

An electric bike-sharing program has stopped abruptly, after the company, Bolt Mobility, has seemingly stopped operations, catching local officials in the New River Valley off guard and without a plan to move forward.

Outside the Christiansburg Recreation Center, there’s a sign posted beside an empty bike rack that reads: “Do not attempt to rent/use the bikes.” The bikes themselves appear to have disappeared. Some of the teal bikes can be seen on racks in Blacksburg, but the app to rent them has stopped working.

“We’re always trying to get people off the roads in Blacksburg,” said Larry Spencer, the attorney for Blacksburg, one of the towns that collaborated on a bike- sharing program called NRV Roam.

“There [are] a lot of students and a relatively small road system. So this fit in with our goals and it was a nice amenity to have.”

Spencer said there isn’t a plan yet to replace or restart NRV Roam, which began in 2018 with initial grants from the towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Virginia Tech and Montgomery County.

Bolt Mobility took over a smaller company, called Gotcha, last year. The company replaced a fleet of traditional orange bikes in the New River Valley with teal electric bikes.

According to Spencer, Bolt Mobility was not receiving any financial support from local agencies when it abruptly ceased operations in July. Spencer contacted Bolt on behalf of NRV Roam, but received no reply.

“We’ve sent them a notice, pursuant to the contract, telling them that they’re in breach of their contract. And it looks like we won’t even get a response to that.”

The contact between Bolt Mobility and NRV Roam stipulates that the company will make the bikes available 24 hours a day, 7 days week.

Riders paid $15 per ride, or $99.99 per year, to Bolt Mobility, a company founded by Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, and based outside Miami, Florida. Radio IQ attempted to contact the company, but did not receive a reply.

According to Ken Tucker with Blacksburg Transit, there were 3,894 rides over the past fiscal year on Bolt’s New River Valley electric bike system. Riders began complaining last month that the bikes weren’t working.

A fleet of electric scooters that Bolt managed in Richmond and other bike-sharing programs in cities across the country have also been affected. According to the online publication, TechCrunch, Bolt Mobility appears to have stopped most of their operations.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.