Two years ago when I bought my People 150cc scooter, I was teased ceaselessly by my car-loving friends. It wasn't so long ago that gas was under two dollars a gallon, and the need for more efficient wheeled transportation wasn't as “in your face” as it is now. Today, when my friends talk about my scooter (or my wife's) it's to ask where I got it, for how much, and how much we save by having them.
J.D. recently mentioned he was thinking of forsaking his dream of a Mini Cooper for a scooter instead, but he had some questions. How much money would he save? Could we quantify with some certainty the impact of a scooter on one's budget? Here's my attempt based on my experience.
First, I'd like to talk about a few misconceptions. Scooters are not necessarily slow-moving vehicles. Your speed depends on your engine size. I'd think of them more generally as small motorcycles. You're exposed to the elements (more so than a car), and you're giving up the “safety” of a steel box, but you are getting a more maneuverable vehicle.
I'd strongly encourage anyone riding a scooter to take a motorcycle safety course, such as the one given by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Safety, either in a car or a scooter, depends greatly on the operator. In my opinion, driving a scooter is no different (in terms of safety) than driving a motorcycle.
In my four years operating a scooter, I have not been involved in any accident. I've been able to avoid unsafe motorists better than I would be able to in a car. I don't feel any more unsafe operating my scooter, but I've had many years of experience, and that confidence can create a noticeably different ride. I would expect first-time riders to be much more nervous.
But the big question here is: How much can one save if you go from a car-centric lifestyle to a scooter-centric lifestyle?
First, purchasing a scooter will cost significantly less, even for models that can keep up with highway traffic. The average new four-door sedan costs about $20,000. A scooter that can achieve a constant speed of 70mph and legally be driven on interstate highways will cost around $3,000. Costs for used vehicles of both classes can vary by large degrees, but the scooter will always be an order of magnitude cheaper. Thus, a scooter can more easily be financed directly out of pocket, avoiding an expensive car loan.
Operating a scooter — gas, insurance, maintenance — is also much cheaper than operating a car. Astonishingly enough, the difference in just one year represents a brand new Buddy 125 (a scooter I highly recommend).
Not Quite Car-Less
However, transferring to a scooter is just one lifestyle choice. We can choose to locate ourselves so that we can walk to work and shop using a rolling cooler. We can locate near bike-friendly areas and strap storage racks to our bikes. We have many choices. None of these choices allows for long-haul, heavy or large lifting, however.
My wife and I have a car, along with our scooters. While seldom used except for long trips and large item hauling needs, we do need a car for those purposes. But we are better off using our scooters, bicycles, and legs for daily commutes and grocery store visits.
J.D.'s note: After our discussion of high gas prices and alternative transportation, not only did Stephen volunteer to share his experiences above, but Bev Brinson sent me a copy of her book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motor Scooters. It's a great introduction to the subject. If, like me, you're interested in scooters, but don't know where to start, borrow a copy from your library.