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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Scooter Love

Air Date: Week of

Reporter Prachi Patel-Predd. (Photo: Joel Predd.)

Spectrum Radio’s Prachi Patel-Predd enjoys zipping around town on her shiny yellow scooter. It’s hip, it’s fast, it doesn’t use a lot of gas, and it’s better for the environment than cars. . .or is it?


GELLERMAN: Well, maybe even with a tax break, bikes aren’t your ride. Maybe scooters are more your speed. In Europe, 30 million people use scooters. In the U.S. it’s just one million…including Spectrum Radio’s Prachi Patel-Predd.


PATEL-PREDD: My brand new, bright yellow scooter arrived a few months ago. Since then, doing groceries or going to the post office have stopped feeling like chores. I can’t wait to strap on my helmet and scoot around town running errands. At the local library one afternoon, a short, middle-aged woman approached me soon after I put my scooter on its stand.

WOMAN: It’s very cute.

PATEL-PREDD: The woman didn’t want to be named. But I asked her if she’d consider buying a scooter.

WOMAN: I probably wouldn’t because I commute quite a ways to work so all I would do was around town which I don’t do that much anyway but otherwise I would - If I worked in town I would.

PATEL-PREDD: Luckily, I work from home and most of my driving is on city streets. Speed limits around here are between 25 to 40 miles per hour. So I’m not slowing traffic down. That’s not to say that my scooter can’t go fast. Its 150 cubic centimeter engine packs quite a punch, and could take me up to 60 miles per hour.

But I didn’t buy the scooter for speed. I bought it because it was cheaper than a car, more fun, and much easier to park around town. And I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint. My scooter gives me about 65 miles per gallon. That’s three times the fuel efficiency of the average U.S. car. Roughly, that means three-times fewer carbon dioxide emissions. But what about other emissions? I decided to investigate.


SIMON: Hi, this is Karl Simon.

PATEL-PREDD: Karl Simon is with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. He told me that the EPA regulates carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions for small scooters like mine. And surprisingly, scooters are big emitters of those pollutants.

SIMON: So if you compare the small scooter, emissions would be higher than a comparable car if you’re driving the same distance down the road.

PATEL-PREDD: Scooters have higher emissions than cars? They’ve certainly come a long way, though. Older scooters have two-stroke engines, like the ones found in lawnmowers and chainsaws. Those machines belch smoke because they burn a small amount of oil along with fuel. Most new scooters have four-stroke engines, which are much cleaner. But cars have more room for emissions control technologies, says Simon.

SIMON: You know, you pop the hood of your car and look at your engine and computer controls and the catalytic converter that’s on the car you get a significant amount of controls there.

PATEL-PREDD: My scooter meets European emission limits, which are stricter than EPA standards. So, just based on those limits, my scooter emits more hydrocarbons but less carbon monoxide than new American cars. That’s a relief! I can calculate exactly how much CO2 and carbon monoxide I’m saving by switching to a scooter. And there are other pluses to riding a two-wheeler.

CJ: …easy on gas, most likely more easy on the pocket, adventurous fun.

PATEL-PREDD: Back at the library, a young college student agrees that two wheels are the way to go.

CJ: Nowadays I really don’t want a car, especially my own, maintenance is high and gas is high. I’d want something simple like a bike or a scooter.

Prachi Patel-Predd. (Photo: Joel Predd.)

PATEL-PREDD: I am certainly paying less for gas these days. But there are other things I can’t put a price on: the wind in my face and the smiles from strangers.


GELLERMAN: Puttering into the sunset is Prachi Patel-Predd. Her report comes to us courtesy of Spectrum Radio, the broadcast edition of IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of technology insiders.

[MUSIC: Various Artists “When You Were The Girl On The Scooter” from Dance Band Rarities (Memoir Records 2001)]



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