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Bolt to drop ‘more robust’ scooters in Richmond to help combat vandalism

A new, more “robust” model of Bolt Mobility’s dockless electric scooters will roll into Richmond next month — following a spate of reported vandalism — the company announced.

Capital News Service

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By Andrew Ringle

A new model of Bolt Mobility’s dockless electric scooters will roll into Richmond next month — following a spate of reported vandalism — the company announced.

The Bolt Chariot is a heavier, reinforced update to the current scooter design, equipped with rear and front brakes, undercarriage lights and a more balanced base. The new model made its trial debut in Richmond last week during an informal panel discussion at Basic Beer Co. in Southside, as part of RVA Transit Week.

“Our next generation of scooters, the Chariot, has a much more robust design,” said Will Nicholas, Bolt’s vice president of operations.

The new model will have extended battery life and “be more challenging to misuse,” according to Nicholas. In addition to the dual brakes and brake lights, the Chariot model contains bag, cell phone and cup holders.

Nicholas spoke at the panel alongside Wyatt Gordon, a reporter from the online blog Greater Greater Washington, and Lynne Lancaster, deputy director of parking and transportation at the Richmond Department of Public Works.

Bolt Mobility saw higher vandalism rates in Richmond than any of its other 11 markets at the time during its first five weeks in the city, according to multiple news reports. Although the company paid roughly $45,000 to distribute 500 of its scooters in early June, high vandalism rates have dwindled the fleet’s numbers.

“We have fewer than 300 right now,” Nicholas said. “Some of them are ridden to the point of exhaustion. Others, it’s been reported on, have been vandalized.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in July that 107 of Bolt’s 370 scooters in Richmond had been vandalized.

Gordon, a transportation reporter who’s covered the industry in cities like Washington D.C., said electric scooters get a bad rap.

“They’re kind of the vape pens of the transportation sector,” Gordon said. “That’s because you look at users, and they tend to be younger people, they tend to skew male.”

Michael Calderon, a Virginia Commonwealth University student who uses an electric scooter to get around campus, said he chooses not to use Bolts because they lack endurance and “break down very easily.”

Calderon said he’ll probably try the Chariot model in October, but afterward, he’ll go back to using his own.

Other VCU students, such as sophomore Sam Musselman, have yet to try Bolt’s scooters since they arrived on campus.

“I own a bike actually, and I think that’s a cheaper way because you don’t have to pay for it,” the film major said.

Musselman said the scooters are effective, but there needs to be more regulation to prevent recklessness.

“They fly up behind you; they’re kind of quiet too,” he said. “I’ve seen people just leave them on the ground. They just fall over, they’re not stable.”

The new model e-scooter is already available in other markets, such as New York, Baltimore and Portland, Oregon. The company is also accepting pre-orders through its website with a slated delivery for November.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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ChildSavers transitions to telehealth, offering 24/7 immediate response line for families

ChildSavers’ Immediate Response initiative is Richmond’s only program devoted to the needs of children exposed to trauma or experiencing a mental health crisis.

RVAHub Staff

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As domestic violence counselors across the state prepare for a possible uptick in cases as families stay home because of COVID-19, local nonprofit ChildSavers is pivoting to a 24/7 Immediate Response hotline that is available for mental health and trauma crises involving children. People can call 804-305-2420 to access the service for free.

ChildSavers’ Immediate Response initiative is Richmond’s only program devoted to the needs of children exposed to trauma or experiencing a mental health crisis. People who utilize the number can talk with a clinician for immediate over-the-phone support. The clinician can also refer the child to ongoing mental health services through ChildSavers or community partners, if needed.

“We know there is increased anxiety and stress among families now that schools are closed for the academic year,” said Kristin Lennox, ChildSavers’ Immediate Response Team supervisor. “We want everyone to know our 24/7 hotline is available to anyone in the community and hope families will take advantage of this free resource.”

Available telehealth mental health services

To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, ChildSavers has begun to complement its in-person mental health therapy services for children with teletherapy options. The agency rolled out telephone-based therapy last week and will offer video conferencing via Zoom beginning the first week of April.

ChildSavers launched its teletherapy services with support from the Cabell Foundation.

The organization is continuing to offer therapy sessions from its East End location while taking precautions to help ensure the health and safety of families, children, and staff.

ChildSavers’ clinicians provide treatment for children and adolescents regardless of an ability to pay. For more information and to learn more about the organization’s mental health services, visit https://childsavers.org/ or call (804) 644-9590.

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Government

Henrico revising budgets to reflect uncertainties from coronavirus

Anticipating sharp drops in revenues from sales, meals and occupancy taxes, officials are preparing adjustments to the current year’s budget and are revising the proposed budget for fiscal 2020-21.

RVAHub Staff

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Henrico County officials have begun to brace for significant financial impacts caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Anticipating sharp drops in revenues from sales, meals and occupancy taxes, officials are preparing adjustments to the current year’s budget and are revising the proposed budget for fiscal 2020-21.

Officials have imposed an immediate hiring freeze and instructed all agencies to suspend all discretionary spending. The county also has put on hold all unfunded capital projects.

The Department of Finance plans to update revenue and expenditure projections on a monthly basis and request fund appropriations quarterly in fiscal 2020-21 until the financial picture becomes clearer.

“Recent announcements from Gov. Ralph Northam’s team regarding billion-dollar state budget shortfalls in the current year and next fiscal year reinforce the need to realign our plans and expectations,” said Meghan Coates, deputy director of Finance. “These important, cost-saving measures are going to be the backbone of our plan to endure the financial impact of this event.”

The Board of Supervisors had begun its review of the county’s $1.4 billion proposed budget last week, when the coronavirus outbreak triggered a global economic shutdown, with business closures, mass layoffs and stock market selloffs.

“The world has changed,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas told the board at its March 24 meeting. “The budget that we worked on, that was presented to you, is no longer sustainable based on the revenue assumptions that were put forward – in one week.”

Finance officials are now looking at a revised proposed budget that would be significantly less than the current year’s plan. The proposed budget would likely not support additional positions or new initiatives and would allow limited cost increases, for example, for health care premiums and contributions to the Virginia Retirement System.

A revised proposed budget is expected to be presented to the Board of Supervisors in mid-April based on updated forecasts for state aid to localities and public feedback. The board will hold a public hearing on the plan at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 14 in the Board Room at the Henrico Government Center, 4301 E. Parham Road. Information will be forthcoming on how members of the public can participate and provide their input.

A vote to adopt the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, April 28. Once approved, the budget will guide operating and capital spending for the year beginning July 1.

The board on March 24 approved several emergency ordinances to help residents and businesses navigate the economic downturn by having the county extend the payment deadlines, without penalty, for various taxes.

Board Chairman Tommy Branin, of the Three Chopt District, noted that the relief efforts would be managed within the current year’s budget.

“This county didn’t leap forward with these measures and reductions without analyzing the budget and recognizing that the county will be fine.”

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Crime

ACLU urges release of some nonviolent offenders to combat coronavirus spread

As the coronavirus begins to hit correctional facilities, groups are calling for the release of nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks. 

Capital News Service

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By Rodney Robinson

As the coronavirus hits correctional facilities, the ACLU is calling for the release of some nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks and keep residents and staff safe.

The Virginia ACLU submitted a letter to the governor, along with the executive guidance document. The document focuses on reducing the overall populations in local and state custodial facilities, including reducing the intake of people. The organization called for an immediate release of all people identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as at-risk for COVID-19, such as older people and people with underlying health conditions, whose sentences would end in the next two years. The ACLU also wants the governor to begin a process of immediate release for anyone whose sentence would end in the next year, anyway.

There are a limited number of eligible parole cases that can be reviewed for early release, according to Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran, who said at a press conference Monday that an expeditious review is “still ongoing.”

“There are a number of challenges because by the code we have no parole in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Moran said. “It is limited to geriatric release and limited to those who are sentenced before 1996.”

Moran said the parole board has withdrawn warrants on technical violations for a number of individuals and has expedited release of parole for those already paroled, in effort to eliminate interaction between the parole supervisor and the individual.

 Three inmates at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. One inmate at the Central Virginia Correctional Unit 13 for women has tested positive for COVID-19, according to VADOC. Four VADOC employees and one contractor have also tested positive for the virus. As of April 3, the Virginia Department of Health reports 2,012 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 46 deaths. From March 27 to April 3, 1,552 cases were confirmed, or 77% of all cases since the state’s first case was reported on March 7.

 “We need strong leadership that will move us more quickly toward a criminal legal system that is safe for everyone,” ACLU Executive Director Claire Gastañaga said in a press release. “To do this, we must jettison the ‘tough on crime’ hyperbole and recognize this pandemic as an opportunity to rethink the way we choose to use the criminal legal system to address issues of poverty, income inequality and addiction.”

Almost two weeks ago the governor announced measures to battle the coronavirus outbreak among residents and staff, such as modifying sentences, diverting offenders from serving jail terms, utilizing home electronic monitoring and reducing low-risk individuals being held without bail.

Elliott B. Bender, founder of Bender Law Group in Richmond and president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that the governor’s measures are great in theory “for the safety of all of us.” However, he is concerned that they are not being implemented consistently and completely. Consistency and getting all branches of government on the same page are important in this process, according to Bender.

Moran said state code mandates the victims involved need to be notified of a prisoner’s potential early release.

“And you have to provide victims time to weigh in on the decision,” Moran said. “And that is an ongoing process as well.”

To combat the virus, visitation and volunteer activities remain closed at correctional facilities, according to the VADOC. People entering VADOC correctional facilities will be screened using thermometers. In addition, the department ordered 112,000 additional bars of soap. Virginia Correctional Enterprises, which employs incarcerated people to produce a variety of goods, is now manufacturing about 30,000 sneeze and cough guard masks per day for inmates and staff, according to VADOC. All employees must assess their risk on a daily basis prior to work.

 Also, there are measures taken to ensure safety once a person leaves a VADOC facility. All inmates leaving a correctional facility are screened for COVID-19 on the day of their release, according to  VADOC.

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