Red tape a roadblock to personal transportation devices
Mike Besler is not a happy camper. His company, Victoria Segway, is stuck in limbo because, despite the fact that they are entirely nonpolluting, inexpensive, and easy to use, battery-powered personal transport devices (PTs) are essentially verboten in this part of the world. They are not “compliant” in the province that would be green, and while Transport Canada and Victoria prevaricate and try to make up their minds, nobody’s going anywhere.
“You can use them on some private trails and in warehouses and buildings and so on,” Besler says, “but you can be busted if you ride them around town.” Clearly frustrated, he adds that, with all due respect, he has a hard time understanding why retired folks and the disabled can glide around on battery-powered electric carts, but jump on a Segway or anything like it, and you’re liable for a $700 fine. “Someone has to step up and say they’re okay,” he adds, “but until then, the Ministry of Transportation in Ottawa is holding up the show.”
It’s not just B.C. In Ontario, for example, the Ministry of Transportation is conducting a pilot project to assess the impact of the Segway (but not other similar devices, apparently), and how it will affect pedestrians and road traffic. The project, which started in 2006 and has been extended until 2013, is ultimately meant to “develop and set appropriate operating requirements and rules of the road for Segway use, and to determine, under controlled circumstances, the appropriate use of the Segway”. As it sits now, you can use one of the devices on “many” roads, trails, sidewalks, and paths throughout Ontario, but it has to be equipped with front and back lights and a bell, and riders under 18 years of age are required to wear a helmet. The project also seems to be primarily aimed at the disabled, as well as law enforcement personnel and letter carriers, and if you break the rules, you can be fined from $250 to $2,500, depending upon what you did. For a full list of all the rules and regulations applying to this project, go to the Ministry of Transportation's website.
Elsewhere, a court case in the U.K. recently saw a 51-year-old man fined some $540 for riding a Segway around Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Although the judge found him guilty of operating a motor vehicle on a footpath, he conceded it was a double-edged sword, and because it was indeed a motor vehicle, “general use on the roads is to be contemplated.” Not helping matters was the fact that Jimi Heselden, owner of the Segway company in Britain, died in 2010 after losing control of one of his products and plunging into a river, where he drowned.
On the other hand, you can rent these kinds of conveyances everywhere, including San Diego, Berlin, Toronto, Dublin, and Rome—all over the world. Despite the current impasse, it’s inevitable that there will be a breakthrough in Canada before long.
And the beat goes on. At this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, motorcycle manufacturer Yamaha announced that, in collaboration with Toyota (or vice versa), it will be manufacturing a new series of electric-powered “communication-linked, next generation vehicles with the aim of building a new mobility society of the future”.
One of the first of these vehicles will be the EC-Miu. Battery-propelled, this is a small trike for use in the city, and aimed primarily at female buyers. The impetus behind the EC-Miu is to create a new infrastructure for urban vehicles for the two companies, while building a transportation system and reducing costs in the process.
This is not the first time Toyota and Yamaha have gotten together. Their relationship actually goes back to 1967, and they have worked on various similar projects, such as the Personal Mobility Concept, over the years. Nor are they the only ones; Honda has also come up with an electrically propelled personal transporter or two of its own, and GM and Segway have been working for years on Project P.U.M.A., which is a battery-powered, self-balancing, two-wheeled vehicle that shuttles two people around at speeds up to 56 kilometres per hour.
Smaller nonautomotive companies like Ezip, ZAP, Razor, and, of course, Segway are also churning out PTs like there’s no tomorrow, and they come in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and configurations. They’re cheap to produce and inexpensive to purchase, and about the only limiting factor seems to be the imaginations of the people who design them.
If you want to get your hands on a new Segway—despite the various roadblocks—they start at around $6,000 these days, and used ones are selling on eBay for $2,000 to $5,000. The non-Segway ZAPPY3, though less sophisticated, is almost as versatile, and starts at about US$800.