the scooter scourge

Based on an increased awareness of pollution/global warming – and with gas prices what they have been – I’ve noticed an increase in the number of scooters being used around the metro area. I find myself experiencing mixed feelings about this…

On the one hand, they seem like a great way to get around if you plan on sticking to a particular area, and don’t want to use your car. I’ve seen a lot of people using them in Ballston and Clarendon – zipping from their homes to the grocery store and back again. I admit I wish I had a Vespa and could join the ranks – it might make my trips for morning coffee a bit more interesting.

On the other hand, this is what I don’t like about these machines. The scooter is not quite a motorcycle, but often requires a motorcycle-operator license; particularly with some reaching top speeds over 50 mph (according to a colleague of mine who owns one). Since you can’t ride a bicycle on the sidewalks – I guess because they are considered to fast and a risk to pedestrian safety – you definitely have to ride your scooter in the street. But when I find myself behind one, driving below the speed limit, on a two-lane road, with no passing zones – I really am at a loss because vehicular assault is still a crime.


I have no problem giving bicycles a wide berth and passing on the left. Doing the same with a scooter I assume is illegal unless I’m in a passing zone. Is this right?

6 Comments so far

  1. Tiffany (unregistered) on September 18th, 2006 @ 4:43 pm

    I looked into this a while back- the problem seems to be that while there are plenty of laws about motorcycles, and plenty of laws about bicycles, there don’t seem to be any way to decide which set of laws apply to scooters…

  2. Brock (unregistered) on September 19th, 2006 @ 9:52 am

    I read an article just a couple weeks ago that said motor scooters produce more pollution than SUVs. Now that I think of it, though, it may have only been two-stroke engines, and I’m not sure how common those are in scooters. I don’t remember where I saw it and a quick glance at Google didn’t find it, but I’m sure you can find it if you do some digging.

  3. Don (unregistered) on September 19th, 2006 @ 10:33 am

    A google on “scooter suv pollution” turns up a number of articles, the top being this Willamette Week Online article with this bit:

    His 1968 Piaggio Gran Turismo, with a two-stroke, 150-cc engine, registered 4,900 parts per million of hydrocarbons and 8.6 percent carbon dioxide emissions. That was 29 times the hydrocarbon levels and nearly three times the carbon dioxide rate of another scooter WW tested–a 2006 MotoFino 150T-10D with a four-stroke engine, courtesy of Prestige Motors in Southeast Portland. The MotoFino kicked out 168 ppm of hydrocarbons and 3.1 percent CO2.

    Four-strokes tend to burn cleaner than two-stroke engines, which run on a mixture of fuel and oil. One of Fitzgibbons’ customers, Shayne Weinstein, offered up for testing his more modern two-stroke, a 2005 Stella also made by Piaggio. Its levels of 1,100 ppm of unburned hydrocarbons and 7.1 percent CO2 fell in between the older two-stroke engine and the four-stroke.

    the SUV:

    As for the SUV, we borrowed WW publisher Richard Meeker’s 2006 Subaru Tribeca. The six-cylinder engine in Meeker’s SUV pumped out less than 10 ppm of hydrocarbons and 1 percent CO2.

    I’d like to read something more about the methodology here, since the big question is are we comparing the result per gallon of gas burned, in which case we have to consider the difference between the >80mpg that those scooters get and the 16mpg the SUV gets.

  4. Brock (unregistered) on September 19th, 2006 @ 4:01 pm

    Don – that’s the one!

    I don’t think it’s an issue of results per gallon of gas burned. They measured, in the case of hydrocarbons, parts per million. So let’s say that both engines run for 10 minutes. The SUV is going to go through more gas, but it’s still emitting 10ppm, while the scooter emits 4,900ppm.

    The real question should be, how many parts per minute (or per gallon)? The SUV is only doing 10ppm, but it may be putting out (for example) 40 million “parts” per minute, while the scooter only puts out 1 million. In this situation, the SUV would put out a total of 400 “parts” and the scooter 4,900. In this example, the SUV is still better, but assuming the SUV produces emissions faster than the scooter, these numbers become less extreme.

    Then again, I know jack squat about internal combustion engines and chemistry, so I might just be talking out my ass.

  5. Brock (unregistered) on September 19th, 2006 @ 4:04 pm

    I need to stop trying to comment while I’m working on other stuff, because now that I read that it only half makes sense.

    The bit in the second paragraph is supposed to be part of the “running both for 10 minutes” example.

  6. Don (unregistered) on September 20th, 2006 @ 11:42 am

    But parts per million is a measurement of percentage, Brock. If I offered you $1,000,000 to consume a sample that was measured to be 100,000 ppm toxic waste, would you agree?

    What if the sample was 0.000001 oz?

    I think there’s more story to be researched here, or at least a more apples-to-apples comparison explained. There’s also some followup to that article that I found questioning the models of scooters chosen, in particular comparing a 1968 scooter to a 2000-era automobile.

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