Saturday, October 18, 2014

Motorised Scooters - Future of Mobility?

Driving out of a multi-storey carpark one morning, I was taken aback to see an elderly person on a motorized scooter zoom across the road.  He was moving quite fast, as you can see from the video below.  I think we will see more and more of such mobility scooters in Singapore, as our population ages.

I hope all drivers will be more careful, and the riders of these scooters be extra careful because their profile is so small.

Why Scooters Only For The Elderly?
Thinking further, it struck me that perhaps we are already seeing the future of mobility.  I re-watched the video again.  The attributes that made this scooter uncle dangerous from a driver's point of view now stood out as key advantages in the following way.

First, he took up so little road space.  Second, he was so small and agile.  Third, his device is very green, being electric powered.  Think about cars today.  Look around the crowded roads and you will notice that in most cases, cars are just carrying one passenger.

Most cars carry just one passenger.  Taking up a lot of road space.
Say the passenger weighs 70kg.  A standard 1.6L car weighs 1,300kg, bigger cars weigh more.  You need a machine weighing 1,300 kg to ferry a person weighing 70kg around.  Doesn't it sound a bit off the mark?

Massive Jams - So much unused space on the road
Take a look at this picture of a massive jam in the USA.  Clearly, there is a lot of underutilised space on the road, but because of the size of each car, we can't squeeze more vehicles on the road.
Look at that jam.  Look at how much space is wasted. 
So, every transport economist and urban planner know that cars are terribly inefficient in terms of choking up the road space and therefore the focus is to build up public transport.  That is correct, but ultimately, yet the demand for cars will always be there.  Why?  Because people want the freedom to move around as and when they like.  Look again at the video of the elderly man whizzing across the road.  Isn't it exhilarating for him?  And how is public transport going to help him cross the road anyway?

So What Can We Do?
To be absolutely clear, I am a big fan of public transport, so we should keep investing in improving the transport network, through trains and buses.  But what I want to say is that large urban cities should seriously re-think about cars and whether we can have smaller cars, or smaller mobility vehicles.

Take this video as an example.  This product is called a Terrain Hopper.  It looks like a souped up and powerful mobility scooter that can go on a hike.  Amazing stuff.   If we extend this idea to build a scooter that has a cover shade and longer distance, perhaps it can be used to replace some road traffic too.

Bring on the Renault Twizy
Now, this is an exciting new toy.  Renault calls is the future of mobility. The Renault Twizy is an electric city car (legally classified in Europe as a quadricycle). The quadricycle has a claimed range of up to 62 miles and costs well under $10,000. It launched in March 2012 and is now available throughout most of Europe.

The Twizy's dimensions are as follows.
Length 2.32 m (91 in)
Width 1.19 m (47 in)
Height 1.46 m (57 in)
Curb weight 450 kg (992 lb)

Compare this with a standard Corolla,
Length 4.5m
Width 1.7m
Height 1.4m
Curb weight 1,300kg

This video from Renault shows you  just how small and agile the Twizy is.  Remember the very jammed motorway?  You probably only need 1/4 the number of Twizys to carry the same number of people in that picture.  We just increased the road capacity by 4 times!

This video from Renault is also very cool.  It shows you that the technology behind the Twizy is no laughing matter.  Look at how fast a souped up Twizy can go.

The Uncle on the motorized scooter has many lessons for urban planners and transport planners.  I think we should break out of the mould of the cars that we drive today.  It just doesn't make much sense when road space is so limited.

Thanks for reading and I hope I have given you more food for thought.

Disclaimer - I do not work for Renault and I am not associated to the mobility products shown above in any way. 

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