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Scooter-Focused Economics Plan to Reduce Use of Foreign Oil, Traffic Congestion, Etc…

October 8, 2007 Environment, Parking, Scooters 17 Comments

The Piaggio Group, maker of the well-known Vespa scooter, is promoting a new economic platform — Vespanomics:

In order to meet the President’s goal of reducing America’s addiction to oil, consumers will need to change their attitudes and behaviors regarding personal transportation in ways that offer the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption and environmental impact. There is no single approach that can solve the problem; rather, a broad set of initiatives may be able to provide a meaningful solution.

Piaggio Group Americas, manufacturer of the Vespa scooter, is at the forefront of this issue. Along with other scooter and motorcycle manufacturers, Piaggio believes that motor scooters and other street-legal two-wheel vehicles offer an important and viable means of transportation in many situations, and could bring a lasting, positive impact on domestic energy stability and America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Piaggio Group Americas advocates making U.S. cities more scooter friendly so that scooters will become a vital component toward stemming the U.S.’s “oil addiction”.

While this is clever marketing, it is also quite logical. Fuel cells, biodiesel, ethanol, hybrids and even electric cars are not the only answer to issues concerning use of oil and pollution. As is indicated, the two wheel vehicle (scooter, motorcycle and bicycle) can play a key role in our transportation systems. Here is some selected items from their materials:

Currently, the United States consumes more than 25% of the world’s total supply of oil3. As a result, the U.S. produces a significant amount of the world’s carbon emissions. Oil consumption in the U.S. is increasing at a rate of approximately 2% annually.

According to a May 2006 survey conducted by ICR on behalf of Piaggio Group Americas, 30% of U.S. consumers indicated they would be extremely or somewhat likely to consider using a scooter for 35% of the mileage currently traveled by car, truck or SUV – yielding a 10% reduction in daily fuel usage. If Americans switch 10% of their mileage to scooters, they will consume 14 million gallons less per day, thereby keeping demand under control.

Clearly the impact could be significant. I know I have found that I ride my scooter far less total miles than I drove my prior cars — I think more locally about shopping and that errand 8 miles away for one little thing may get combined with other errands in the same direction. So really, the impact is even greater in my estimation. Just like bicycling, the key is having a place to park at your destination(s):

Government agencies should consider removing the two-wheeler from the four-wheeler parking space and placing it in its own, scaled down zone. This is a simple concept that can be embraced by city councils, urban planners, local merchants, contractors, shopping center management and private businesses whenever parking for motor vehicles is provided.

Toronto, Canada – The City Council recently amended the parking by-laws to allow motorcycles and scooters to park for free on city streets with on-street parking meters. In addition, Toronto is pursuing allocating certain spaces in city lots for two-wheel vehicle parking as well as examining if two-wheel vehicles can park on city sidewalks.

San Francisco, CA – The city designated 1,696 parking spaces specifically for motorcycles and scooters, both metered and un-metered. In addition the city has begun replacing single-spaced meters with multi-space meters to better accommodate motorcycles. Metered parking is prorated for motorcycles ranging from $.10 – $.25 per hour depending on location. (San Francisco Dept. of Parking & Traffic)

Indeed, the idea is not necessarily to have free parking but to have appropriately priced parking. Why should I pay the same rate as a Hummer to park in a garage? We have so much unused space on our streets that accommodating two wheel vehicles is more about mindset than money. Given the cost of unsightly parking garages (tens of millions of dollars) and the buzz killing surface parking lots we need more attention paid to such simple measures to make more room for people, not cars.

And their conclusion:

Local and national government leaders are charged with establishing transportation policies that address both short-term and long-term problems, are environmentally responsible and truly benefit the American consumer. With the support of federal, state and local governments, new options like scootering can bring immediate and substantial economic and environmental benefits to Americans and the communities in which they live.

To facilitate the adoption of scootering, U.S. Mayors and other elected officials should consider providing dedicated parking for scooters and motorcycles.

Now is the time to broaden the dialogue about America’s addiction to oil and its dependency on foreign imports in a way that includes technological as well as behavioral solutions.

You can read much more at vespanomics.com.


Currently there are "17 comments" on this Article:

  1. john says:

    Certainly a step in the right direction. However to make it successful requires agreeable and supportive governmental policies at both the state and federal levels. The “One World Two Wheel Solution” is also being supported by bike manufacturers like TREK (http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/company/one_world_two_wheels/) and many other organizations like PPS and Complete Streets (http://www.completestreets.org/). Parking is an extremely important issue but many local residents equate the concept of “free parking” with individual liberty, but scooters and bikes are not part of the equation.

  2. Curtis says:

    Awesome post.

    I remember my business trip to France a few years ago. In Montpellier, a major portion of the city was totally blocked off for cars of non-residents. There were these big posts in the street that could be retracted by remote control for residents or official vehicles. But there was still plenty of room for a scooter to get through, and there were plenty of them around. It was very pleasant to walk around the area shopping. The streets and allyways were filled to the brim with mixed use properties with little delis and shops at the street and several stories of apartments or flats above.

    Of course, a Hummer wouldn’t have fit down most of those streets even if they weren’t blocked off!

  3. Nick Kasoff says:

    Clever marketing. But the idea that a $5,000 scooter is the answer to our oil addition strikes me as absurd. Better solutions might include:

    1. Federal tax incentives to steer people away from car-dependent suburban developments. This means taxing new subdivisions in Winfield – AND New Town too.

    2. Ride the bus. It’s a lot cheaper than a scooter, unless of course you live in St. Peters which can’t possibly be efficiently served with mass transit.

    3. Require a carpool/bus lane on all federally funded roads that are more than two lanes wide. Require a fine of not less than $500 for anyone caught cheating in the carpool lane. Provide tax credits for carpooling.

    4. Stop building and improving our highway system that makes it easier for people to drive more. If you want to live in Wentzville, enjoy the traffic.

    These solutions aren’t as fun as buying a cool new scooter. They do, however, have the advantage of causing us to spend LESS money instead of more – and inducing us to make wise lifestyle decisions too.

    Personally, I don’t need a scooter, because I walk for most of my short-distance errands. I am also militant about combining trips – for example, picking up a kid in west county last Friday was combined with a stop at home supply store in Bridgeton, a grocery store on Olive, and a friend’s bank at Lindbergh and 270. This isn’t always possible, but the savings on driving are tremendous when it is.

  4. Joe Frank says:

    I noticed test drives of the Smart4Two car being given last week on Art Hill in Forest Park. Looked pretty cool. Scooters are a good option if you can keep them secured; and I suspect as they grow in popularity there will be a move to license and tax the smaller ones, probably at a lesser rate than Harleys. Are there any scooter brands that are actually built in the US, and preferably somewhere here in the Rust Belt where they can help replace some of the jobs quickly dwindling in the auto industry?

  5. Jim Zavist says:

    An interesting quote from the current edition of the Louisville Eccentric Observer: “Here’s a doozy of a stat: According to Purdue Researchers, the United States has paved approximately 6,000 square miles into parking lots. That’s an area larger than the entire state on Connecticut. There are now 11 parking spaces for every family in the nation. The sprawl, pollution run-off, heat and automatic weapon shootouts generated by big-box stores are becoming an environmental catastrophe on their own.”

    And speaking from experience, what generally dictates how much retail or office space can be constructed on a parcel, especially in the suburbs, under current zoning regulations, is typically not any arbitrary limit on maximum land coverage or floor-area-ratios but the number of parking spaces that can be economically constructed. In most areas (including nearly all of the St. Louis metro area), land is inexpensive enough that it’s cheaper to buy more land to accomodate any parking requirement than it is to either build structured parking or to push the jurisdiction for a smaller ratio.

    Finally, the concept of two-wheeled personal transport needs to be significantly refined before a majority of the mini-van, SUV and pick-up driving populace “see the light” and change their ways. People with kids and people in white-collar jobs have to deal with either several pint-size bodies (and their effluvium and accessories) or have to arrive at work “clean and pressed” and ready to work. Add in the market-driven realities of status and image (pretty much any luxury vehicle) and/or over-compensating for personal inadequacies in the choice of one’s vehicle (the lifted, diesel, quad-cab pick-up) and the motor scooter isn’t even on the radar screen for many folks. The smart4two is a step in the right direction – it’s enclosed and air-conditioned and cute. Make it something more than an appliance and I might be more interested . . .

  6. john says:

    Need inspiration? Envisioning a city where alternative vehicles get priority over automobiles, singer David Byrne hosted a program (and rode his bike on stage) on Saturday in NYC that explored ways to make NYC streets more like those of bike-friendly Copenhagen. “About 35 percent of the workforce in the Danish capital commutes by bike” said Byrne of the Talking Heads who visited the city with the folding bicycle he carries around the world with him. Another one-third use mass transit and the remaining group use automobiles.
    I’ve visited Copenhagen a few times and it is a beautiful, energetic, successful place that 30 years ago decided to directly address the new demands being imposed on it by being overly dependent on autos and fossil fuels. The city decided to change its infrastructure to accommodate the needs of all road users, to lower pollution and the dependence on fossil fuels, and to make transportation safer. They have succeeded on all fronts and have changed the city for the better.
    Our addiction to fossil fuels can be significantly reduced with intelligent leadership coupled with sincere intentions. However, according to our local county highway director Garry Earls, “the 10-speed simply isn’t an option for traveling to work or getting children to school.” Truly uninspiring and foolish too!
    Many videos are available at Streetfilms.org and one on Copenhagen alone is inspirational: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9067416427722807670&hl=en

  7. Nick Kasoff says:

    automatic weapon shootouts generated by big-box stores

    Sorry, but as a strongly pro-gun libertarian, who also opposes publicly funded sprawl, recycles, walks as much as possible, and drives as little as possible, I can’t let that one pass. Just plain ridiculous.

  8. dude says:

    If you’re talking about the 49 cubic centemeter engine block variety scooter, (which typically means you do NOT register it with the state) the cost on ebay on these things rarely exceeds $1000. I don’t know where you came up with $5000. Remember these things top out at 30 mph and that’s probably with no cargo on a flat stretch of road. They get in the 75 to 80 mpg range. Small cars get around 30, trucks get around 20 (on good days). You’d be not going as far on a more efficient vehicle. On the aggregate, this would greatly reduce demand for gasolline, making us less dependent on foreign oil. We’ve been getting by burning through way more gasoline than necessary because whenever anyone has tried to interrupt the cheap oil in the middle east, the US military violently rectifies the situation.

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    Nick – I debated whether or not to include the whole paragraph, but thought that the toungue-in-cheek aspect of the comment about weapons was pretty evident. What I found scary is the 11 spaces for every family, but thinking about the “typical suburban family”, it’s not too hard to figure out – a couple of spaces in the driveway, a space at work for mom and another space for dad at another work site, a space at church on Sunday, a space at the high school for junior and a half dozen shared spaces at various recreation complexes, grocery stores, strip malls, “real” malls and big-box centers and, yeah, there are probably even 11 spaces for every family. Assuming that with more vehicles than people these days, it also means, what, an average of 3-4 vehicles per family, so it probably does take 11 spaces for every one to do the rubik’s cube shuffling of all these “assets” . . .

  10. Jim Zavist says:

    But seriously, even the first baby step of using “compact” spaces here in the U S of A has been tried and found to be largely unsuccessful – too many big vehicles trying to fit into them, too many instances of a net reduction in capacity where two spaces end up being “used” by one vehicle, and too many door dings. The cycling ideals presented (Copenhagen and the Netherlands) are not much like our sprawling, hilly, humid megalopolis. Ask Steve, most cyclists, and even most Harley riders and the consensus is “we don’t get no respect”. We face a huge pair of obstacles, our built environment (it is what it is, and it won’t be changing anytime soon) and a lack of exciting alternatives. If 90% of us acted “rationally”, most of us would be driving compact and subcompact cars (like in Europe) for all our primarily-single-occupant trips and saving our hard-earned money for something “more useful”. The reality is that most of us desire validation of our economic success, want to make a fashion statement, want to be as “safe” as possible and/or want to experience a bit of luxury and personal space for our daily commute. But, as the Mini has, and the smart fortwo likely will, IF attractive options are offered AND correctly marketed, perceptions can be changed. The other big difference between here and “over there” is simply the price of fuel – much higher gas taxes in Europe create a significant financial incentive to think small(er). Two-wheeled transportation is simply an extension of this paradigm. Harleys have morphed from vehicles of choice for Hell’s Angels (in the 50’s and 60′) into overpriced, fair-weather, weekend yuppie toys and fashion accessories for wannabe “bad boys”. Scooters have gained some traction as a fashion statement with the loft crowd and college students, helped by their obvious economic benefits. What would be interesting would be to compare the carbon footprint of their unregulated engines with those in compact cars – as with any discussion, there are both positives and negatives to any choice . . .

    [SLP – There are many baby steps we can be taking.  Increasing local taxes on gas to fund bicycle parking, having pay-n-display parking that allows for some flexibility and as the post suggests — spaces for two wheel vehicles.  Let’s shift the balance a bit and make it more convenient to use two wheel transportation — motorized or not.  To me the smart fortwo is the perfect city car — if I were in the market for a new car it would top my list.  My old scion gets better mileage than some of these big motorcycles so I don’t really see them as efficient transportation. 

    But I need to correct you on the carbon footprint issue — the EPA has been regulating these engines since 2006.  My 2004 Honda is a clean 4-stroke engine.  The old polluting 2-strokes are gone except for classics.  Scooters on the market these days are quiet low in pollution.  That conventional lawn mower is far more of a polluter than a scooter.]

  11. A couple of things I’d like to address here.. 1) the sub-$1,000 scooters you see on Ebay, Craigslist, etc are what enthusiasts refer to “CCS’s” Cheap Chinese Scooters (to tone it down a notch). They are often poor-quality, unreliable Chinese knock-offs of the reputable Japanese and Taiwanese brands. Nearly ALL you see are not DOT-compliant, and probably do not come with a title. Sellers will tell you that you don’t need one, which is disengenuous at best. You do not need to REGISTER a 49cc bike for the road, but you do still have to TITLE it. Most people it seems – even experience scooterists – do not realize this or do this themselves, and it only comes back to bite them when they want to trade-in their scooter at a dealership, or sell to a knowledgeable scooterist.

    The $5,000 pice tag for a Vespa is by no means out of line. with Vespa in particular, you are spending a lot of extra cash for the name – like BMW or Harley motorcycles. I *think* the new Vespa LX50 starts at something like 4k OTD, and for a top of the line GTS250ie, expect to drop down almost 7k OTD!!

    There are far cheaper and arguably more reliable products out there from other manufactuers, just without the bragging rights of the Vespa name badge.

    2nd) emissions. yes, scooters and motorcycle are regulated by the EPA, and restrictions are tightening. HOWEVER, they are still held to much lower standards than passenger vehicles. While certainly 4-stroke 49cc and some high-tech 2T’s may get very low emissions, and return up to 100mpg or more, many scooters and most all motorcycles – despite CATs, fuel-injection, liquid cooling, etc – and Despite the higher mileage, emit far more pollutants per mile traveled than a standard sedan.

    This is espeically true of the uniquely American 1,000cc+ displacement cruiser market. Thanks to Harley-Davidson and it’s magnificent marketing machine, we now have leagues of ‘merican cycle riders who now think that a 750cc bike is “small”!!! and that you need at least 1.2 litres displacement do do anything “real” with your bike. And it’s such a powerfull perception that over the past few years even European and Japanese marques are following suit. At least for the American market… in Europe, or Japan, you see the EXACT SAME model motorcycles… but with 250cc, 400cc, maybe a 500cc engine in them!!

    The latest Honda Goldwing has a larger, more powerfull engine than a few ONE-TON rated pickup trucks I’ve owned! the last “big” motorcycle I owned – a 750cc Moto Guzzi – never got over 45mpg. My VW TDI Beetle OTOH, never got LESS than 48mpg! And it had heat & A/C, air-bags, anti-lock brakes, a roof over it, etc.

    Before things get any better, perceptions on all sides are going to need to change drastically. Riders need to demand smaller-displacement rides, manufactuers need to offer more of their “domestic” models, the general public needs to stop thinking of scooters/cycles as recreational “toys”. DRIVER education needs to include motorcycle awareness. Public policy, policymakers, traffic enginees, etc need to consider the needs of 2-wheelers.
    It will probably get worse – much worse – before it gets better. But I do hold out hope that it WILL get better.

    [SLPThanks for your input — knowing you personally I know that you have extensive knowledge in this area. We should clarify there are many options for scooters between the sub-$1,000 knock offs and the $4K Vespa.  A new Honda Metropolitan like mine is $1,899 list — ditto for the 50cc Genuine Buddy.  The 125cc Buddy is $2,599 list.  Kymco makes some great scooters starting at $1,599 — the beautiful Kymco People S 125 is $2,999.   Quality choices abound in many price ranges.  Scooters are certainly not easy on the planet but I know I personally drive less miles than I did with a car.  This combined with the cost savings and the reduce use of fuel makes me think my carbon footprint is less than the typical Prius owner.  I have no facts to prove this, however.]

  12. john says:

    Our transportation habits are shaped and highly influenced by governmental policies which to date have been extremely biased towards the greater use of autos over other alternatives. Copenhagen had similar policies but decided to tackle the problems head on internally instead of externally.
    Our gas taxes don’t pay for the roads being built and thus the “perfect storm” scenario Steve wrote about on Aug 9. By most measures, our gas taxes are underpriced by anywhere from $0.50 to $0.70 per gallon. This massive welfare program for auto-truck users skews results, creates dependencies, permeates our lifestyle choices and determines our built environment.
    Governmental policies designed to subsidize a particular form of transportation inevitably creates more of the same. These policies create the need for more and bigger cars, which create the need for more parking lots, which create the need for more intersections, lights, etc.
    This massive welfare program is also evident in the failure of law enforcement to hold irresponsible drivers accountable for daily law violations. Our pollution standards are too low, our road and highway designs are dominated and controlled by those who favor cars over people, our stores are surrounded by excessively large parking lots, and killers in cars are rarely held accountable for their actions.
    Steve’s simple suggestion about two-wheels being part of the solution will not be popular, especially here in the StL region. Auto-dependency is so great here that rational ideas and debate are quickly tossed aside. Locals have more excuses than remedies for their dependencies and remain silent as local leadership continues down the same self destructive path.

  13. Sorry, I wasn’t as clear in my comment about emissions – I meant that 4T and some 2T (such as Aprilia DiTech) *DO* have much better emissions than cars – even a Hybrid I suspect as well. Probably even a few 125-150cc 4T bikes do too. *IF* they are left stock! 😉
    What skews the stats away from favorable though are the hundreds of thousands of litre+ cruisers out there plundering along getting mid-high 30’s!!

    The Vespa-alternative scoots you mentioned are excellent choices. The Kymco People and the Genuine Buddy are the current “kings of the hill” in nearly all aspects of modern scooter desireability. mileage, reliability, affordability, etc.

    the Buddy 125 will go 60mph with little difficulty, and in the case of my wifes, gets 90+mpg.

  14. Maurice says:

    Wow, a lot of good comments, so I would like to add mine.

    I think there are many issues involved here, not the least of which is suburban vs. urban lifestyle.

    If the auto makers would develop a car that is efficient and well built, and can get to market within a few years as we see happening in other countries. Of course we also have the gov. saying it is ok to have super gas guzzzlers like Hummers and such, low fuel taxes, etc.

    Then there are the pschological issues as well…the I’ve got to have the latest, biggest, whatever or the male organ envy that shows up in auto selection as well.

    I do agree, I think it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We are the largest wasters of everything…and China hasn’t even really gotten off the ground yet. When the capitalism really takes hold there, we will be screwed because there won’t be anything left for us, Europe, or any other country.

  15. fALCONev says:

    American drivers have a ‘drag racer’ mentality when the light turns green. This has led to an ever higher perceived need for more and more horsepower. Along with the ‘bigger is better for safety’ mindset. It’s all irrational and ego / paranoid driven. All the while keeping the windows rolled up so you don’t breath the poisonous gases your spewing behind .
    Gas scooters will only shift the problem to two wheels.
    Anyone who has been overseas knows the terrible air pollution problem gas scooters generate.
    When will we learn ? Answer; when gas goes to $8 per gallon.
    Till then, buy an electric bike or quality E-scooter.

  16. Nick Kasoff says:

    Reality check, here: A scooter is a great full-time car substitute if (1) You have no children to transport; (2) You live in an area where weather isn’t a factor (Arizona? Southern California?); (3) Your trips are short enough and do not involve highway driving; (4) You do not need to transport anything which is bulky, fragile, or vulnerable to wind damage; (5) You don’t have destinations where smelling like road grime is a problem; and, (6) You are not concerned about the safety aspect.

    I say this as somebody who rode motorcycles for about 15 years. It was fun, it was cool, but I certainly could not have survived without a car. In reality, a bus is a much better car substitute than a scooter. So, getting back to my original point: While this may be a neat marketing campaign for Vespa, it really has little to do with practical solutions to America’s transportation and energy problems.

    PS – I started on a Honda CB550, and my last bike was a Honda CB900C. At highway speeds, the 550 felt like you were riding a chain saw. And the 900 didn’t get particularly good gas mileage, even with its 10 speed overdrive transmission. In the end, though, safety became my main concern, so I ditched the bike and bought a Mini Cooper convertible.

    [SLP — Vespa is not suggesting a scooter be a full time substitute for a car.  They are suggesting having it as part of the mix of choices and thereby seeing a 10% reduction in miles on cars.  I know couples with and without children which operate with only a single car/van and use a bicycle and/or scooter as additional transportation.  I know one guy who’s daughter loves to ride in the sidecar attached to his scooter.  At roughly $2,000, it is relatively easy to afford one —- instead of buying that $20K car next time get an $18K car and a $2K scooter.  Is this for everyone?  NO.  But the idea is that for many the scooter is a valid option for making some noticeable reductions in miles driven in a car.]

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