Scooters are not the enemy. Nor are they the source of your economic salvation.
July 23, 2009
Scooters are cute and functional.
These little vehicles can transport people and belongings – albeit not many – great distances on very little fuel. They can navigate small areas and can be stored in a fraction of the space of a traditional car.
Best of all, they can be parked nearly anywhere so they have a positive impact on the municipal parking challenges most big cities face.
Look around Paris and you’ll see a dozen scooters parked on the corner of a traffic island or tucked neatly out of the way on a busy sidewalk. Glance at major cities like New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco and you’ll see the same thing. Scooters gathered in their own ‘hives’ – helping reduce carbon footprints while affording each city the ability to cater to more people without enduring additional car traffic and parking issues.
Scooter Utopia, right. Pretty much, until now.
What’s changed is the mentality of big-city governments and an environment of trying economic times. Seriously.
Legislators have decided in many big cities that scooters are using the roads and should start to be treated like every other motor vehicle. In theory it sounds fair but in practice it falls short on multiple levels.
My specific beef is with Massachusetts and the city of Boston. They have new scooter legislation that takes effect in a few days, the gist of which is that all scooter-like vehicles (motorized bikes, mopeds and scooters of all sizes) must be licensed, plated and parked according to the same regulations of a car. If there was ever an apples to oranges comparison, putting scooters and cars in the same category is it.
Here are a few scooters – all of these come under the new law. Ponder for a second how much space these two-wheeled vehicles really take up.
Let’s compare cars and scooters briefly.
Road Use – Cars have four tires and weigh roughly ten times as much as a scooter, maybe more. A car understandably has more physical impact on the infrastructure than a scooter. Legislators want to ignore the differences in carbon impact and treat all vehicles similarly. It’s a money grab basically.
Registration – For years, mopeds and small scooters have been allowed to operate with just a little sticker. This little sticker costs users $20 a year. It is how these small vehicles are registered and tracked. Sadly, my sources at the registry of motor vehicles confessed that the registration lists for these ‘stickered’ vehicles was mostly kept manually and never entered into the state’s computers. Where any parking enforcement person can immediately bring up info on your car by using the plate, the moped/scooter registration system let the majority of two-wheelers slip through the cracks. With a comprehensive registration system, the state will now be able to track scooters better. This is actually pretty smart. While it adds some complexity to owning and operating a scooter, it ensures that riders are licensed and insured. It also helps track stolen scoots because everything will now have a plate in the computerized database. Sure, it means more money, but this isn’t solely a money grab.
Parking – This is the biggest issue. Have you ever parked in Boston? Was it fun? I regularly ride my scooter to Boston from the South Shore. I park on the sidewalk and lock or alarm my scooter. It takes up about four feet of space and leaves a spot free for a car on the street. The new legislation requires that all of these two-wheelers must now be parked in a legal space. That means – and I did an informal count the other day on just one block – that the five scooters parked on a typical city block will now be occupying parking spaces. Which in turn means there are five fewer spaces for cars. That’s bad enough, but from a scooterist’s standpoint the legislation puts my life at risk, too. Seriously. Imagine that you’re late for an appointment and come into the city in your car. You see what you think is an open space but then realize that a tiny, 200lb scooter is hogging it. You fume and drive down the block. The scenario replays itself a few more times. Tiny scooter in spot made for a car. Aren’t you going to be a little angry at scooters the next time you see them driving on the road in front or behind you? Sure you are. Will this make you run them off the road? Probably not, but it might affect your outlook enough that you won’t be as courteous to them as you would be to other vehicles. Also, on the streets without meters, where can I stick my parking receipt so someone won’t just take it? And how can I keep people from moving or even stealing my scooter (see next section)?
Personal Property – From riding my scooter all over the region I have experienced the complete lack of respect others have for personal property. People bump the car in front of them and behind them when parking. They don’t park within marked lines.
And they are now piloting vehicles that make our antiquated infrastructure incapable of handling their girth. What do you think happens to scooters that are parked in spots designed for cars? They get smashed. People whip into spots without looking and invariably slam into a tiny scooter that they didn’t anticipate. Further, if they do see the scooter at the last minute, they stop their car and go move the scooter to the back or front of the space. Scooters only weigh a couple hundred pounds and can be easily rolled by one person. In fact, two people can steal a scooter in a matter of seconds just by picking it up and tossing it in the back of a truck. I think this scooter law is going to generate an entirely new type of parking rage because Joe and Josephine Six-Pack are not going to understand why a scooter has to take up a full spot.
If you’re with me on any of this, I’d love for you to leave a comment, share this post with your local papers and politicians, and also go HERE to sign a petition in favor of there being a little more thought to this shortsighted money grab.
If you’re against me, I also want to hear that too. Am I being tunnel-visioned in my arguments? Are there better ways to handle this situation?
As for me, I’ve got a few errands to run around town. I’m going to practice taking up a full space and see what sort of response I get. I’m even tempted to jet into Boston a little later and camp in various spots around the city to see how people feel when they can’t find a spot because my tiny scooter has taken it.
More to come…