By Guy Page
In what looks like a top-down business decision affecting only the Green Mountain State, Bolt Mobility, the national electric bike-share business promoted by Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, has pulled its 200 e-bikes out of service from Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski.
No reason was given in an email from the company to Chittenden County transportation authorities. E-biking has grown popular in urban areas as a physically unchallenging, low-emissions mode of transportation. Bike-sharing – one-time bike rentals – was seen as attractive to greater Burlington residents and visitors.
Bolt Mobility had an exclusive deal to provide ridesharing to the tri-city market. But much to local officials’ disappointment, that deal ended last Thursday.
“The electric-assist Greenride Bikeshare system, operated by Bolt Mobility, in the cities of Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski is no longer in operation due to Bolt Mobility ceasing its business operations effective July 1,” Executive Director Sandy Thibault of Chittenden Area Transportation Management Association said in a press statement.
“CATMA, along with the cities of Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski, executed an agreement in May 2021 with Bolt to deploy 200 electric-assist bikes throughout these jurisdictions and on the medical/ academic campus district. In May 2022, an addendum to this agreement was executed to better respond to community priorities for an electric-bikeshare system and to update the timeline of the system expansion.
“‘Bikeshare is an important transportation option in our network that offers an equitable, affordable and sustainable mobility choice,’ said Sandy Thibault, Executive Director at CATMA. “This is an unfortunate situation. However, CATMA and its regional partners are committed to exploring implementation of a new bikeshare system for our communities that is accessible to everyone.”
“CATMA and its institutional and municipal partners are in the process of navigating the removal of the bikeshare assets along with issuing communications to members and our community regarding membership and system status. If you notice any of the teal and black Greenride bikes outside of their hubs, please notify firstname.lastname@example.org.
“CATMA is a non-profit membership based organization that provides transportation strategies and solutions to improve commutes, support healthy lifestyles and reduce carbon emissions.
Why? Bolt Mobility isn’t saying anything about withdrawing from Vermont on its social media. Here’s what is known:
- With only 200 bikes, Vermont is small potatoes to a national chain like Bolt.
- National companies often have “one size fits all” corporate liability strategies that reduce their risk exposure to the largest part of their market.
- Large states like California require all e-bike riders under 18 to wear helmets. Vermont does not. In some respects, Vermont is almost regulation-free.
According to ebikex.com, Vermont e-bike riders don’t need helmet, insurance, or registration. Act 40 (introduced as S66) passed by the Vermont Legislature this year says “electric bicycles shall be governed as bicycles under Vermont law, and operators of electric bicycles shall be subject to all of the rights and duties applicable to bicyclists under Vermont law.”
However, Act 40 does impose several restrictions that some big states don’t – any of which could become problematic for companies looking at “big picture” compliance nationwide.
According to state law, riders must be 16 years old. Towns and cities may boot e-bikes off of local bike paths, if they choose (none of the three cities have done so).
And there’s this restriction from Act 40: “An electric bicycle shall comply with the equipment and manufacturing requirements for bicycles promulgated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission…. and may only be operated in such a way that the electric motor is disengaged or ceases to function when the operator stops pedaling or applies the brakes.”
Is it possible that this requirement – in conjunction with Vermont’s new Medical Monitoring law holding chemical manufacturing companies responsible for exposure to dangerous chemicals, and a U.S. Supreme Court dedicated to state’s rights – has made the Bolt Mobility Legal Department nervous enough to advise a bug out?
Bolt isn’t saying. Time may tell.