SCOOTERS are quickly becoming the vehicle of choice for many in New York City. This is not surprising, given that they are inexpensive, fuel efficient and easy to maintain and they provide tremendous personal mobility. They are legally considered motorcycles but their smaller size and step-through design set them apart from the bigger bikes, making them ideal for city life. Imagine no longer being at the mercy of a subway or bus schedule, or never having to hail a cab or get stuck in a car during gridlock again. Scooters make New York City life easier, more fun and more accessible.
But as far as the city is concerned, unfortunately, scooters don’t fit in, and they are being towed, ticketed and fined more than ever before.
The main problem, of course, is parking. There is almost no officially designated scooter or motorcycle parking in Manhattan. While cities across America — from Annapolis, Md., to San Francisco — are encouraging scooter drivers by offering parking spaces, in New York City, it’s a free-for-all: if you park on the street, you’re liable to have your bike damaged by a driver using the “park by feel” method or even picked up and moved elsewhere without your consent.
Some of my nonscootering friends have suggested that I avoid all this by using a garage or parking lot. This sounds like a good suggestion, but most garage owners don’t allow bikes because they aren’t insured to take two-wheeled vehicles. And those garages that do take scooters or motorcycles insist on charging the standard auto rate, which doesn’t seem fair.
At the moment, sidewalk parking is really the only alternative. Those scooterists, like myself, who park on the sidewalk are usually pretty careful about trying to find unobtrusive spots, out of the way of pedestrians and automobiles. This, however, eventually results in a ticket since parking on the sidewalk is in fact against the law.
In reaction to the ticketing, a lot of scooterists remove their license plates when parked so that there is no way to identify them. But this trick no longer works now that parking enforcement officers are armed with scanners to read registration stickers and issue summons. Recently the city began towing bikes parked with their plates removed, treating them as abandoned vehicles.
I may not be speaking for all scooterists, but I’m sure many, like me, don’t enjoy breaking the law to park somewhat safely. We want our scooters to be there when we walk outside; not knocked over or stolen or moved or towed.
The reality is that this parking problem is not going to go away. Scooterists are a growing constituency. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, a national trade association, scooter sales in New York City, Long Island and northern New Jersey grew 310 percent from 1996 to 2005. Last year, there was a 64.5 percent increase in scooter sales nationwide.
Aside from providing scooter-designated parking on the street, separate from cars, New York City needs to require garages to provide parking for two-wheeled vehicles. And the city needs to regulate what rates garages charge. After all, if garages can charge a premium for S.U.V.’s because they take up more space, then shouldn’t they provide a discount to a scooter for taking only a sixth of the space of a standard car?
And although sidewalk parking is controversial, the city should consider this option. By looking at underused areas both on the street and the sidewalk, the city can find the space. Designated sidewalk parking also has the benefit of providing a structure to which scooterists can lock their bikes. In many cities around the world, sidewalks are where most scooters are parked.
As a final thought, consider Toronto. Until recently, the city also ticketed and towed its scooterists. But last year, the Toronto City Council passed legislation to make motorcycle and scooter parking free. The legislation also called for increasing the amount of parking space available for two-wheeled vehicles. Toronto obviously realized that it did more harm than good to punish those who reduced congestion and emissions in the city. It’s only a matter of time, I hope, before New York City comes to the same conclusions.