Monday, 5 March 2012

Let's Get Personal - Personal Electric Transport, that is!

As a follow up to last weeks piece on the electric car, I thought I would gather some information together on personal electric transport. It is true that most cars doing the morning and evening commute are used by the driver alone, and except for cases of car share, or luck when near neighbours happen to live and work at the same place of business, or very close by, it seems that most four or five seat cars, outwith family trips, spend most of their time in motion containing only the driver.

So, why is there not a greater uptake on personal transport, powered transport for the single traveller? It seems to me that as time marches on, and petrol and diesel attain ever higher costs, then it will only be a matter of time before the balance is tipped and personal transport will be the way to go, especially for the shorter trips we routinely take in our everyday lives. The electric car may be an ideal replacement for the standard car, but is the personal electric transport a viable option for some as well, and if so, why isn't it more popular?

At the moment, widespread personal transport consists of the motorcycle, scooter, and the bicycle. Both the motorcycle and the scooter are motorised, require training, a licence, road tax and insurance, plus they have a big disadvantage in the UK due to the weather. The bicycle, being the greenest, is self-powered, gets you from A to B in fine form, apart from a layer of perspiration, a weariness depending on the journey's gradients, and of course, leaves the rider also at the mercy of the weather. After the price of purchase, the bicycle costs absolutely nothing to maintain and run, except perhaps for the occasional puncture repair and a tin of lubrication oil for the chain. The cyclist needs no compulsory insurance, road tax, training, a licence, and parking is free almost anywhere in the UK. Motorcycles and scooters use the main highway to get around, cycles use the main highway when there are no special cycle lanes for exclusive use. These methods of transport are deemed by most to be more dangerous to the rider than other methods of travel. It seems we have now found some of the probable causes as to why personal transport is not so popular as it may be in the UK, one is the danger to the user, another is the weather, and yet another reason, and the most compelling perhaps, I would imagine, is in two parts, on the one side is a mechanised means of transport held back by the constraints of legal conformity, and on the other, there is not so much legal conformity to worry about, but there is the fact that this method requires real physical effort to energise the means.

"Electric bikes, or e-bikes as they are commonly known, may be snubbed by the cycle-snobs but they really are generating excitement in the industry. There has been considerable investment by brands in making them more lightweight, compact, and aesthetically-pleasing..." (Source)

There are a variety of electric bicycles on the market at the moment, and they seem to be under constant development. These electric bicycles don't have the hoops of legal conformity to jump through and I do wonder why they are not more popular when you consider there are purported to be over one million users of motorcycles and scooters in the UK. The e-voyager retailing at £649 inc vat seems to have appeal. There are also on the market now various other methods of personal electric transport, perhaps my favourite (and most desired) is the Segway, but at over five grand to purchase in the UK, the Segway is never going to be popular. Another two-wheel self-balancing transporter is the Ewee-PT, which is far more realistically priced and can be bought for €899.00 (around £750). A small four wheel personal electric transporter is available from Hammacher and retails for $1895 (around £1,200), this is perhaps the most stable to ride, so may suit the more cautious among us. Each of the above have their own unique appeal, but none have reached any real momentum in sales, in fact you would be hard pressed to see any of them in regular use in most areas of the UK.

There does seem to be interesting developments in the field of personal electric transport though, and it may be sooner rather than later that someone or some company creates the right formula for a device that meets the requirements of appeal, usability, and reliability that sparks an excitement in the masses, and will encourage the traveller to reach for the cheque book and make a purchase. When it does happens, it will save them money in transport costs, save them in muscle power, and save them the embarrassment that some of the more eccentric models on the market at the moment may cause. Where is Sir Clive Sinclair when you need him? Oh, he's bringing out his new model!

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