High prices at the pump and environmental concerns are spurring many drivers to ditch their cars
Bernadette Maloney drives around Chico getting 95 miles per gallon.
No, it’s not too good to be true, as the Chico State student found out last month when she picked up her new wheels. Maloney had been saving up to replace her main source of transportation, a ‘99 Hyundai Elantra, with a more economical and eco-friendly ride.
And on Aug. 14, her birthday, her father surprised her with a brand-new electric-blue Shanghai Shenke scooter from Chico-based Fun Sun Scooters.
Maloney is just one of a number of locals taking part in a scooter invasion, but not the Razor-brand alternative to skateboards and roller skates popular among children. These scooters are made for a more mature crowd. They are powered by gas and are ridden in traffic. They also help keep money in their owners’ wallets and decrease their carbon footprints by getting 80 to 100 miles per gallon.
“I filled up my tank for about $10 the day I got it, and so far the gas-gauge needle hasn’t moved,” said Maloney, who estimates she uses her scooter between four and five times a day, riding from her home in south Chico to the university and to her job at the mall.
A few months back, Roland Jesters, owner and founder of Fun Sun Scooters, was filling up his truck at a gas station when inspiration for his business struck. The price tag for one tank cost him about $110.
“I thought, ‘this is ridiculous,’ and then scooters popped into my head,” said Jesters, who ended up buying scooters for himself and his girlfriend to test out.
Fun Sun Scooters opened for business last month inside Off the Wall Soccer on East 20th Street. The business began with a modest on-site inventory of 10 scooters. Within four weeks, Jesters exceeded his sales expectations by selling 12 to 15 bikes.
Most of the sales have been through the company’s Web site, funsunscooters.com, but Jesters is working on moving his shop into its own dedicated space, where he also plans to sell motorcycles and ATVs. Most of the sales have been to local customers.
In addition to savings at the pump, Jesters’ motivation to open his business included the ecological benefits of driving scooters rather than cars.
“Even if I had a million dollars I would have a scooter for the environment and to save money,” he said.
In fact, Jesters said he eventually wants to focus on selling only electric and hybrid scooters on-site. He would still take special orders for regular gas scooters, but the more eco-friendly models would be the store’s main inventory. Those varieties get an astounding 220 miles per gallon, but aren’t in stock yet because they have only recently been made available in the United States.
Another plan, albeit a long-term one, is to work with other local businesses to set up charging stations around town for the electric models, which operate for between 25 and 30 miles per charge. Setting them up, he said, would encourage a lot of folks to give them a try.
A scooter driver for about three months, Jesters now uses his model as his main source of transportation—even to places like the grocery store if he knows he’s not going to buy a lot of items. He said there is a lot to love about traveling via scooter.
“You can pull up anywhere and park your scooter,” Jesters said. “It’s like being a V.I.P. all the time. Just get on it and have fun.”
Currently, his two models run about $795 each, plus shipping, taxes and an assembly fee. Jesters is pretty in tune with trends and had been noticing for some time the increasing popularity of scooters. Interestingly, he doesn’t have a target demographic; he’s made sales to folks ages 17 to 65.
Maloney, 22, also said she’s seen an increase in people using scooters as their main mode of transportation. Based on her experience, she predicts the trend will continue.
“All the girls at my work are talking about getting a scooter because they’ve fallen in love with mine,” she explained.
Of course, scooters can’t exactly replace cars. Since they can’t be taken on highways and freeways, Maloney kept the old Hyundai for traveling long distances.
A motorcycle license from the Department of Motor Vehicles is required to legally drive a scooter. Much like a regular driver’s license, obtaining one includes an application, a written exam for a permit and a driving test.
Maloney said the written test stresses that scooter drivers are the smallest people on the road, but she hasn’t had any close calls. In fact, she reported the opposite.
“Everybody seems to be pretty aware that scooters are out there,” she said. “I’ve actually been stopped a couple of times by random people wanting to know what kind of gas mileage it gets, how fast it goes and that kind of stuff.”
She recommends them to other people, noting how much easier they are to park than a car—especially at the university, where spaces are sparse.
“On campus, there are plenty of spots, and they’re right in front,” she said.
Environmental concerns were a driving factor in Maloney’s desire to get a scooter. Maloney, who’s a history major, recalled taking a course a few years ago that examined the environmental impact one person made on the Earth.
“Impact was definitely reduced by driving a scooter instead of a car,” she said.
Additional reporting by Melissa Daugherty