Scooters pick up speed in the city

A man drives a scooter through the city.

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: In New York City, 4 out of 5 commuters use public transportation to get to work. That fifth person may be rethinking getting behind the wheel. Time to rev up the scooter. Andrea Mustain reports.


Andrea Mustain: On a sticky summer evening, rush hour traffic speeds down Broadway at 14th Street. Among the yellow taxis and buses, plenty of SUVs roar by. But some New Yorkers are trading in their gas guzzlers for a commute that sounds more like this:

[Sound of a scooter]

A scooter. Sales are up in New York. And since these dainty vehicles can get up to 70 miles per gallon, it's easy to see why.

Jill Yu: Ninety percent of our customers are coming in this year exclusively because of the gas prices."

That's Jill Yu. She runs a scooter shop in Queens, along with her husband, James Yu. They say demand is way up from last year. Out in front of their tiny shop, James cuts open a giant cardboard box.

James Yu: There she is.

The gleaming blue scooter nestled inside is already spoken for. A guy who got tired of shelling out 100 bucks at the pump to fill his GMC Yukon bought this scooter for around $1,500.

The Yus mostly sell Asian-made bikes. But Vespa, the Italian bike maker, is also having a good year. In the U.S., Vespa sales are up a record-breaking 106 percent. And one of the top selling dealerships in the country is Vespa SoHo, right here in Manhattan.

Zachary Schieffelin: We've sold 14 or 15 in the last couple days.

Owner Zachary Schieffelin says that's a lot, even for him. Schieffelin says he hopes this means New York will start to look more like London or Rome -- the streets buzzing with as many scooters as cars.

But New York's Department of Transportation says not so fast. The department doesn't plan to make scooter parking or riding any easier. They'd rather you just took public transportation.

But artist Tim Wilson says he got his scooter to avoid the subway. And it costs only $10 a week for gas.

Wilson says it's not just the convenience and economics that make scooters great:

Tim Wilson: It's the best way to see the city.

He climbs on his pale yellow Vespa for the scenic ride back to Brooklyn.

Mustain: How long does it take you to get home?

Wilson: About 20 minutes.

Just 20 minutes. Yeah, rub it in, Tim. It takes me hour on the subway.

In New York, I'm Andrea Mustain for Marketplace.

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