George Lee “number one fan” of Segway

– Old tech can be better than new

Journalist George Lee apparently loves Segway. He talked about the “green” “commuting” vehicles when on the Cafe on RTE2, the Evening Heard quoted him as saying he’s its “number one fan”, and at the it@Cork conference he went around the crowd on one and started again to speak of the merits of the devices (video above, via Damien Mulley).

Fun maybe, but beyond this I’m a bit concerned with Lee’s views on the Segway. I couldn’t hear too much of what he said on the video, but caught the bit about journeys within 9km in Cork. Walking and cycling are two solutions which can already accommodate such journeys.

The benfits of cycling over using Segway include:

The law
“We have been lobbying at Government level for two years to try to get progress on this,” Segway Ireland’s spokesman told the Evening Herald. “Until then, we cannot aggressively pursue the commuter market. That market is what distributors around the world are working towards.”

And says: “we must continue to advise customers that the Segway should be used on private property only”. Yet, on the same site “Green Commuting” is one of the product sections, and Lee says he uses one for commuting and advocates such.

The site also says: “We are still working to obtain clarification and are pursuing legsilation in line with that of other EU states,” but fail to mentions where it is – effectively or otherwise – banned.

A pricing PDF linked to from puts the most basic model at just under €6,000, and the “Commuter” Segway at nearly €300 extra. You could pick up a decent bicycle for a fraction of that at around €300 to €400, folding bikes can be picked up between €400 to €600 (or a little more or less). And if you look at second hand bikes, its less again. Electric bikes are even cheaper than these “green commuters.”

As the link to the Hearld says, fully charging the Segway costs 15c, but the cost of running a bike are virtually nil. Cycling is the most efficient form of transport, and that’s even above walking which burns three times more energy [Source: Link / Marcia Lowe, The Bicycle: Vehicle for a Small Planet (Worldwatch Institute, 1989)].

Age and size restrictions
The company’s Irish website says: “Users should also be 16 years of age and have a minimum weight of 45kgs.”

Segway use takes less effort than commuting by cycling. Getting exercise has physical and mental health benefits for the user and, for the State, there’s a healthier population which lowers health care investment costs. A bicycle can also be used for extra excise.

The environment
The Segway may be ‘greener’ than car use, but it’s not as green as cycling. As above: Cycling is the most efficient form of transport. Segway says it uses little electricity, but we’re still getting most of our power from coal and gas.

Lee says: “There is an electronic key which growls and beeps if anybody touches it, so it’s not easy to rob. It’s so versatile and moveable.” … I hope the Herald joined these to sentences together, as saying “it’s not easy to rob” and “so versatile and moveable” so close together is quite funny.

I feel somewhat twitchy locking my bike which was just shy of €500 anywhere outside. I’d crack up leaving something worth six grand around the city centre.

Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann commuter services, the Dart, Commuter trains and the Luas won’t carry bicycles unless they are folding bikes*. So, it’s unlikely drivers or other staff would allow Segways on. On intercity rail there’s limited bike space which does not suit Segways. And would one be safe in a Bus Eireann coach’s storage?

Nor can they be taken on airliners: “You can ship your lithium-ion battery-equipped machine anywhere by ground transportation. However, our lithium-ion batteries are not appropriate to be shipped by air at this time (including airline travel)”.

* = SIDE NOTE: For rail, this is different in many EU states at least off peek and others have bicycle carriages where people sitting down have to get up for bikes. And for buses, some US city bus services carry bikes.

Proprietary technology
Government should not be using or promoting a proprietary technology when there is a cheaper and healthier option available. This also brings up maintenance and accessories issues as below.

While parts from some bikes are hard to find, most things are standardised across makes. On the other hand, says: “Replacement parts are available for an estimated three-year time frame from the last wholesale delivery of the product”. Bike parts haven’t changed much in 100 years, bikes can be self repaired, and there are bike repair shops in most towns and cities in Ireland.

Bicycle accessories are largly standardised across makes and models. With a Segway however it more undefined, says: “Segway and its distribution partners will continue to offer accessories for first-generation Segway PTs as long as market demand exists for those accessories.”

Use by police forces
The Segway would have an advantage indoors where turning spaces is small. But bicycles can mount mount kerbs quickly. A lot if the above problems should also be taken into account — mainly cost.