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Scooter Allure

This article is more than 11 years old.

You've probably seen them, heard them, or noticed them parked on sidewalks.

We're talking about motor scooters. There are a lot more of them on the roads these days.

High gas prices are the obvious reason sales have increased 25 percent nationwide, compared with a year ago.

But there are other reasons as well, as WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer reports.

TEXT OF STORY:

(Sound of scooter store.)

SACHA PFEIFFER: At Greater Boston Motorsports in Arlington, Barry Eisenberg shows off the motor scooters he sells. But if you were hoping to buy a scooter from him, you're out of luck. He's sold out, just like many other dealers.

BARRY EISENBERG: I would love to keep more in stock. Very difficult to get. Supply and demand. That trend is going across the nation at this point.

PFEIFFER: Even the scooters he has on back order are mostly presold. And his customers are from all walks of life.

EISENBERG: I sold one to the local funeral director up the street. I had a nurse from Winchester. She just bought one. My mother in law in her 80s, she said, 'Could you get me a scooter?'

PFEIFFER: Four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline is why many people are hopping onboard. Some scooters get 100 miles to the gallon. The cheapest ones start at about a thousand dollars. But salesman Barry Eisenberg says they're popular for less practical reasons, too.

EISENBERG: It's romantic, it's sexy, it's awesome. I'm 6-2, 230 pounds and I'd hop on one of these.

PFEIFFER: The more you talk to people about why they like scooters, the more you get the sense they're not just being environmentally responsible or trying to save money on gas.

DAVID GLEASON: The truth is I've always wanted something like this and it's fun and the boys would love it too.

PFEIFFER: That's David Gleason of Concord. "The boys" are his two kids, who went scooter shopping with him. Stevie, the younger one, isn't old enough to drive a scooter yet, but he also thinks they're incredibly cool.

STEVIE GLEASON: I've always wanted like a go-kart or electric scooter, but I guess this is way better. So being able to drive this would be amazing.

DAVID GLEASON: You know what? We'll take one.

PFEIFFER: So the Gleasons are now scooter owners. What it takes to become one is surprisingly simple. To operate a scooter in Massachusetts, you don't need a license plate, you don't need a motorcycle license, you don't even need insurance.

You can park it on sidewalks and ride it in bike lanes. That's because many scooters are considered "motorized bicycles" by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. And all you need to drive one of those is a registry decal, a standard driver's license, and a helmet. Then turn the key and go.

(Sound of gas station)

It's so easy that Kathy Greer of Medford has two Honda scooters and she's now shopping for a third for a friend.

KATHY GREER: I use it for everything. I use it like my automobile; I even take my dog on it with me. He goes in my jacket. He's only ten pounds. He's a mini dachshund named Fenway Frank and he rides right in my LL Bean red jacket.

PFEIFFER: A dog in a jacket aboard a moving scooter? That brings us to a question many people wonder about scooters: Is riding them dangerous? Kathy Greer.

GREER: I think people are hesitant because of the safety factor but if you just use common sense and abide by the rules of the road and watch out for everybody else you're going to do fine.

PFEIFFER: Frank Balurdi works at Jack's Gas in North Cambridge, where he's been selling Chinese motor scooters at a brisk pace. He recommends that scooter riders drive defensively and not do risky moves like weaving through lanes.

FRANK BALURDI: Road rage on a scooter doesn't work. Lot more dangerous than being on a car. If you drive aggressive on a scooter, you're going to get hurt.

PFEIFFER: Several local emergency rooms said they haven't seen an increase in scooter-related injuries, at least not yet. And the federal agency that collects traffic accident data doesn't break out numbers for scooters.

For now, many scooter drivers are saying that practicality outweighs safety concerns. I asked Eddie from Roslindale — he didn't want to give his last name — why he was shopping for a scooter.

"EDDIE:" Price. Cheaper than a motorcycle. You can bring them anywhere. Park them anywhere now. You don't have to pay for parking and stuff. It's just convenience.

PFEIFFER: Do you like the look?

"EDDIE:" Um, a little. I mean, I'd rather have a Harley.

PFEIFFER: But for others, scooters have it all — substance and style. For WBUR, I'm Sacha Pfeiffer.

This program aired on July 17, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Sacha Pfeiffer Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.

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