TOKYO • Nine-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt is bringing his electric scooters to Japan, hopeful that his celebrity status will persuade regulators that the environmental benefits are important enough to relax some of the curbs on their use.
Under current laws, e-scooters can be driven only on roads, need to carry licence plates, and require a motorcycle licence to be ridden.
The world-record sprinter and co-founder of Bolt Mobility announced the launch at an event in a Tokyo restaurant yesterday. The initial goal is to limit its scooter rentals to private land, which is exempted from the traffic regulations, and to operate on 40 university campuses by the end of next year.
Beyond that, representatives of the year-old American start-up are talking with regulators about easing restrictions, arguing that its scooters can reduce traffic congestion and thereby reduce emissions.
Mr Bolt hopes his celebrity can help deliver that message. "We're still talking and trying to figure out how to push forward and do better things for the environment, because that's where it started," he said after the event. "This is the future."
Bolt Mobility aims to be in 20 cities globally by the end of this year and 50 across eight countries next year. Earlier this year, it launched in New York, Paris and Washington.
Sharing of e-scooters has become a popular option for so-called "last-mile" commutes in many urban centres worldwide, but it has also created problems.
In San Francisco, customers have abandoned the devices on public walkways, spurring a city attorney to call them a "public nuisance". Paris has tightened rules on where e-scooters can be ridden following two deaths and scores of injuries.
An elderly cyclist died after colliding with an e-scooter in Singapore in September.