Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt is bringing his electric scooters to Japan, hoping that his celebrity status will help convince regulators that environmental benefits are important enough to relax some of the local legal blockades.
Under current laws, scooters can only be driven on roads, they must carry license plates and motorcyclists need a motorcycle license.
Bolt Mobility sprinter and co-founder announced the launch at an event at a Tokyo restaurant on Friday. The initial goal is to limit scooter rental for private land, exempt from traffic rules, and to be operating on 40 college campuses until the end of 2020.
In addition, representatives of the one-year American start-up are talking to regulators about reducing restrictions, arguing that their scooters can reduce traffic congestion and thus reduce emissions. Bolt hopes his celebrity can help get this message across.
"We are still talking and trying to figure out how to move forward and do better things for the environment, because that's where it all began," he said in an interview with Reuters after the event. "This is the future."
Bolt Mobility aims to be in 20 cities globally by the end of this year and 50 in eight countries on 2020. Earlier this year, it was launched in New York, Paris and Washington.
Electronic scooter sharing has become a popular choice for many students in many urban centers around the world, but they have also created problems.
In San Francisco, customers abandoned vehicles on public walkways, encouraging the city's lawyer to call them "public nuisance."
Paris has tightened the rules on where scooters can be parked after two deaths and dozens of injuries. An elderly cyclist died after colliding with an e-scooter in Singapore in September.
In Tokyo, electronic scooters are still a rarity and, under current laws, are treated as low-powered motorcycles. However, there is a growing push to make them more popular.
At this month's Tokyo Motor Show, hosted by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, visitors can sample electric scooters built by Japanese and foreign startups.
The world's largest e-scooter company, Lime, joined the Japanese lobby group Microbility Promotion Council on Thursday.
However, a change in regulation may take some time, despite the support of some Japanese government officials.
"While everyone says it's very convenient, safety should be a top priority," said an official at the Japanese Ministry of Transport, who declined to be named because he was not allowed to talk to the media.
"This is going to be an extremely high hurdle."