A long relationship with narrow, cobbled streets in Europe and congested Asian megacities, scooters are now becoming a general attraction in the car-loving US as commuters avoid public transport due to the coronavirus crisis.
New Yorkers turned to the turquoise-blue rental mopeds of ride-sharing company Revel in large numbers in recent times, while scooter retailers are reporting a big increase in sales.
“I decided a few months ago during all this craziness to start using a scooter,” said 30-year-old Alan Taledia, who purchased a 150 cc Vespa.
“I don’t have to do any public transportation, so it’s better for me. I feel more comfortable,” he said.
Sales of motorcycles and electric two-wheelers — common amongst the Big Apple’s army of food delivery drivers — are also increasing as residents plump for cheaper options against four wheels.
Andrew Hadjiminas — president of a Vespa, Piaggio, Aprilia and Moto Guzzi retailer in Brooklyn — stated that the store has sold over 200 vehicles in the last three months.
“We are experiencing a positive sales growth over last year,” he informed AFP.
“As people start to think about their commute and mobility during and after this pandemic, they are searching for ways to get around that are safe and fun,” Hadjiminas said.
At Unik Moto in Long Island City, demand has tripled compared to July last year, with some weeks observing about 20 scooters being sold, according to general manager Chris Benson.
The shop, which has had a hard time to keep its inventory stocked, mostly sells models by the Taiwanese manufacturers Sanyang Motor and Kymco.
“There was a big increase, up to now,” Benson informed AFP.
Riding in the country’s most populated city, where car ownership is high and traffic can be bumper-to-bumper, comes with risks though.
Revel, which has done much to promote mopeds, paused its New York services recently after the deaths of two riders, including a 26-year-old CBS reporter, in separate crashes.
Revel, founded by two American entrepreneurs, started a pilot program in 2018 with 68 electric mopeds in Brooklyn.
Before suspending operations on Tuesday, its New York fleet had increased to 3,000 vehicles, each with a top speed of 30 mph, clocking 100,000 miles (160,000 kilometers) per day.
There were just more than 4,000 trips on Revel scooters in the two weeks before New York City shut down in March, the company stated.
In the last fortnight of June, rides were up to nearly 18,000 daily, a representative for Revel said.
Critics, though, say the near-silent vehicles are a safety hazard, indicating that they are often driven by inexperienced riders.
The company requires that users have an appropriate driver’s license to book a moped, but doesn’t ask them to take a test.
Revel has suspended 2,000 riders in the last few for breaching safety guidelines, such as declining to wear the helmets that are provided with each trip.
The spokeswoman said Revel is making its safety measures tougher, including riders having to confirm that they are wearing helmets and safety exam built into its smartphone application.
Its operations are ongoing in Washington, Austin, and Oakland and the service is being started in San Francisco in August.
Revel riders hope they will be able to scoot around New York’s streets again anytime soon.