There’s a New Scooter in Town (Where it’s Still Illegal)

Legendary runner Usain Bolt shows off a bulky e-scooter that bears his name (though he's only being paid).

Meet the Bolt Chariot. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Meet the Bolt Chariot. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Meet the SUV of e-scooters. No, seriously, it even has cupholders.

A new player in the movement to legalize e-scooters, Bolt Mobility, showed off its Escalade-like flagship model at a City Hall press conference on Tuesday complete with the company’s newly hired “global brand ambassador,” Usain Bolt, one of the greatest athletes in world history.

While members of the mainstream press flocked to Bolt — who merely posed with the scooter, but did not ride it — the wonks of the transportation press grilled the company’s Vice President of Operations Will Nicholas. Here’s what we learned:

Usain Bolt humors the press. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Usain Bolt humors the press. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
  • The Bolt scooter on display is called the Bolt Chariot. It features 10-inch wheels (up from other manufacturers’ six- or eight-inch wheels).
  • The Chariot is wider, so riders can stand facing fully forward, with their feet straddling the battery compartment, rather than standing surfboard-style, which Streetsblog has found to be a bit daunting.
  • There is an open space in front of the battery compartment for a bag or backpack.
  • There are two cupholders and a USB port for charging your phone.
  • There are two hand brakes.
  • The pricing system would be similar to other e-scooter companies, with $1 to unlock a Bolt scooter, plus 15 cents per minute.

Bolt was still surrounded by a media scrum, so we continued to grill Nicholas, a Brooklynite. He confessed that this company is currently small — it has just 753 scooters deployed in three southern cities — but he feels confident that his supply chain could handle New York, if e-scooters are legalized.

He promised that regular company employees will collect and charge Bolt scooters when they run down. In other cities, some companies employ freelancers who drive around, pick up the spent scooters, and charge them at home for a fee. Nicholas said he is proudest of the Bolt’s “rugged” design, which he said was inspired by New York.

Bolt is just the latest company chasing its piece of the still-illegal e-scooter market. Bird, Lime, Jump and others are all getting ready to pounce if the City Council passes its pending bill to legalize and regulate this form of micro-mobility — and then over-rides a possible veto by the mayor, who has said he is skeptical that the scooters can operate safely.

Will Nicholas, vp of operations for Bolt Mobility. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Will Nicholas, vp of operations for Bolt Mobility. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

But that’s putting this two-wheeled cart before the horse. The state legislature also has pending legislation that would allow cities like New York to regulate and legalize e-scooters if they wish. Many city officials believe that the state must act first before the city can move ahead.

Meanwhile, all of the companies are spending lavishly — and not just to get spokespeople like a world-renowned athlete (Bolt did not say how much it was paying Bolt, by the way). Politico’s Dana Rubinstein reported on Tuesday that swaying upstate lawmakers has become a “well-financed operation” for lobbyists in Albany (by subscription only). Bolt alone has been paying the firm of Brown & Weinraub $15,000 a month, Rubinstein reported.

Unlike at other scooter company events, no New York City elected official showed up at Bolt’s meet-the-press event.

But to his credit, Bolt was game to play along with reporters grilling him about whether he has used the scooter given that his own legs can move him faster. He said he has several at his home that he does, in fact, use. And he got philosophical.

“I have run in cities all over the world, and I can tell you first hand that traffic is getting worse and worse in every city on every continent on earth,” he said. “The air quality is also getting worse, and I feel that now is the time that we must do something about it. That’s why I am so proud of the Bolt scooter.”