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Los Angeles

MTA to Add Electric Scooters, Bicycles to Its Fleet

Transit: Devices would be leased to commuters living near stations and park-and-ride lots to ease parking congestion.

January 12, 2002|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles may be the car capital of the world, but transit officials think it is time commuters consider a new way to get around town. Their chosen alternative: the electric scooter.

Under a program scheduled for launch in April, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will lease dozens of electric scooters and bicycles to commuters who live near crowded transit parking lots.

The program will offer the scooters and bicycles at a discounted rate--as little as $10 a month--to people who now drive a mile or two to catch a train or bus to work. After leasing the electric devices for a year and a half, the commuters will own them outright.

In exchange for the low lease rates, the chosen commuters would participate in a survey about the benefits and drawbacks of using the bikes and scooters to get around.

The idea came from a handful of MTA transportation managers who are determined to ease the crowding at transit stations and park-and-ride lots.

"We've been kicking around this idea for a while," said MTA transportation project manager Walt Davis. "Why pay $20 a month for a space at a park-and-ride lot when you can pay $10 a month for a scooter?"

MTA officials have yet to decide how to select the commuters who would qualify for the three-year pilot program.

The MTA is requesting $368,000 from the state to buy up to 500 electric scooters and bicycles, and even a few of the electronic two-wheeled vehicles known as the Ginger.

The Ginger is the much-ballyhooed, battery-powered gadget that debuted in the national media last month. It looks like a lawn mower that is ridden while standing up. The "self-balancing human transporter" costs about $3,000 and can reach speeds of 17 mph.

MTA officials hope the sight of commuters in business suits zipping on and off buses and trains will spark a new transportation trend.

But the idea has already drawn some criticism from alternative transportation advocates and others.

Dennis Crowley, president of California Cycleways, a Pasadena-based group promoting the use of bicycles, said he is happy to see the MTA promoting alternatives to smog-belching cars. But he wonders why the agency doesn't simply encourage more people to buy human-powered bicycles.

"These electric bikes are expensive and they are heavy," Crowley said. "I can't help but think that a regular old bicycle would work better."

He noted that the MTA could purchase regular 10-speed bikes for less than $200 each.

MTA officials say they have been promoting the use of human-powered bicycles by installing lockers at transit stations and bicycle racks on MTA buses.

But Davis said he hopes the electric scooters and bicycles will be more acceptable to commuters who may want to avoid the physical exertion of getting to and from a transit point.

Crowley retorted: "We are talking about a mile or two here. We are not talking any exertion."

Russell Travis, a sociology professor at Cal State Bakersfield, agrees with Crowley. Because most Americans can stand to lose a few pounds, he suggests that the MTA simply promote the idea of walking to train and bus stations.

"Just walking a mile a day would do wonders for people," he said.

As for the Ginger, it already has run into a few speed bumps.

In New York, transportation experts said it probably would not be legal to drive the device on sidewalks, and it would probably be too slow to operate on the streets.

Los Angeles transportation officials could not be reached to comment on the use of the device.

Segway, the company that developed the Ginger, plans to offer the vehicle first for commercial use at such enterprises as Amazon.com and the U.S. Postal Service.

Davis said MTA officials are expected to get a demonstration of the Ginger in April.

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