Gridlock Sam: Avert Climate Catastrophe, Ride a Vespa®


While Parisians are starting to complain that "an invasion of noisy scooters and motorcycles and a rise in accidents involving pedestrian and motorcyclists" is one of the "unintended consequences" of Mayor Bertrand Delanoe’s traffic reduction policies, "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz’s consulting firm just issued a report claiming that New York City could better meet its long-term sustainability goals by adding more scooters to the traffic mix. Commissioned for Piaggio, the Italian manufacturer of Vespa scooters, the study says:

Data from a new traffic model released
today demonstrates that the nation’s largest city could significantly
reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a key factor in the global
warming debate, and reduce fuel consumption while saving a great deal
of time lost to congestion by simply incorporating more motor scooters
into the commuting vehicle mix.

By shifting the daytime vehicle mix to 80 percent cars / 20 percent scooters, the following would result annually: 

  • A
    total decrease in delay of more than 4.6 million hours per year – which
    translates to time savings of nearly 100 working hours per person
  • A reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 26,000 tons (52,000,000-pounds) per year
  • A decrease in fuel consumption by over 2.5 million gallons per year
  • A total savings for New York City of more than $122 million per year in fuel and labor productivity.

Photo: 718 Shooter / Flickr

  • These things have turned Italian cities into hellholes of noise and poisoned air.

    The only place other than Mexico City where the air made my eyes hurt was Florence in 2001.

    Maybe we should put this one in the category of Sam’s study claiming IKEA in Red Hook will be a “transit-oriented development.”

  • I lived in Florence in 1997, and Orcutt is right. The pollution is nauseating. Worst I have ever experienced.

  • P

    Transit advocates in South America are also none too enamoured of scooters. (I’m willing to accept that there may be a class component to this antagonism) I’ve never lived in a city with enough scooters to form an opinion of my own but the widespread distrust of them is something to consider.

  • Electric motors are the answer.

  • Yes, that would definitely help Glenn.

    Its worth noting that places like Florence and Mexico City are not filled with SUVs, so it may be unfair to blame the pollution on scooters. If all those people rode in Cars in could be much worse.

    Its also worth considering if motorists are the type of people that would ride sctooers? I have met a few Vespa riders in NYC and they were not motorists. They used to use the subway, and walk…and now they ride.

  • It’s just a question of standards. The scooters that are so popular in Europe (zero of which are Vespas with color-coordinated helmets) are very cheap and very loud compared to the princess-mobiles sold here. Young people can’t afford cars, and you have to be at least 18 anyway, which is all in all a great thing. But someone dropped the ball along the way in regulating them, both in terms of noise and pollution. Apparently we do have such regulations here, or Piaggio is just afraid that the princess’s ears will bleed if she hears the real thing. But by all means, let’s import the imaginary trend of European adults riding Vespas, because we can afford to make them as quiet and efficient as they ought to be (compared to cars that are fifteen times their mass).

  • I would like to see a study of origins and destinations of scooter trips. I bet we would find that most scooter trips in Paris or Florence are so short that it would be easy to do them by bicycle.

  • Jerome

    Maybe bicycle manufacturers could pay for a Schwartz-Co study?

  • Jason, you’re wrong. Cars have room for emissions control technology in the engines, whereas the small Vespa engines tend not to and also tend to burn fuel less completely (more emissions/gallon, even if miles/gallon is far superior).

    If Doc is right and scooter emissions and noise can be controlled, it’s another story. It that addressed in the SS report?

    Mexico City is filled to the brim with cars and then some, btw, legendarily so.

  • Ian Turner

    Taiwan has more scooters per capita than any other “country or region” (*), and they blow incredible amounts of pollution into the air. They’re probably better carbon-wise, since they consume less gas, but certainly worse particulate-wise, since their engines are less efficient.

    Glenn is right that electric motors don’t have this problem, but they do share the range issues of all electric vehicles, plus additional infrastructure considerations in New York, since there are few private garages in which to charge them.

    (*) This phrase is commonly used in East Asia when one wants to refer to Hong Kong, Macau, and/or Taiwan as separate entities from China as a whole.

  • Also, I spent some time in Florence in the early 1980s and the air pollution then was nothing to remark about, unlike it was five years ago after the scooter plague had descended.

  • mfs

    I’m highly skeptical of this study. It’s funded by the manufacturer. Let’s see an independent investigation. Electric scooters would be perfect, because these things don’t need to have remotely anything like the range that an electric car would.

  • crzwdjk

    Scooters are definitely horrible for air pollution. They might burn less gas, but they still aren’t terribly efficient. And they emit hydrocarbons (unburned gas) and probably lots of carbon monoxide and particulates and so on. And they produce lots of noise. Electric scooters might be the answer, if they can get a decent range. Remember, this is designed to be transportation for use in the city, so the required range is relatively short, and with modern battery technology might be feasible.

  • Electric scooters are not just possible, but are available now at retailers in your area, like this one in mine, which only sells electric powered bikes.

  • Some Jerk

    Most of the pollution from scooters comes from 2-stroke models burning a mix of gasoline and oil. The advantage is more power from a smaller engine, but of course that is offset by terrible unburnt hydrocarbon emissions.

    Four cycle engines are less noisy and naturally less polluting. While catalytic convertors have not been fitted to motorscooters yet, a Honda subsidiary has developed a new paper based catalyst design which will make emissions controls for these scooters possible.

    In short, don’t dismiss scooters based on the stinky and noisy fleet that roams the third world.

  • There are definitely scooters available that are far more environmentally friendly than cars. Much easier to park than cars, too. Still, nothing is as friendly to the environment as a bike or even two good feet.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    The EU is increasing regulation of scooter travel. And outlawing two-stroke motors is the chief element of such regulation. The new generation of gas powered scoots in Europe are pretty clean. It is now a question of getting the old ones off the road. Asia is a different story. Highly efficient,relatively clean and quiet new scoots come on market in high-income areas but the old two stroke smoke scoots are hard to take away from poor people. Perhaps there is more to class analysis than meets the eye.

  • Mitch

    I’m pretty sure there are engineering solutions to scooters’ emissions problems, but other issues might be harder to resolve.

    The big problem is that scooters are not bikes, and they’re not really cars; so how do they fit into the traffic mix? You can’t allow them on bike paths or bike lanes, but they can’t compete with cars except on local streets. I suspect the complexity they add to the traffic mix is one reason for the increase in crashes in Paris.

    So how do you commute into Manhattan by scooter from Staten Island or New Jersey, or even Queens? The major bridges and tunnels all perform like freeways, and scooters don’t work in that environment. You might be able to ride a scooter to work from the Bronx or Washinton Heights, but if all the auto-commuters from those areas switched to scooters, you wouldn’t take many cars off the road.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    If you are interested in the latest tech and can tolerate a little Italian, try this piece on French state of the art scoots.

  • daisy

    where can you park these things? We need municipal garages for more energy efficient, space saving vehicles including bikes.

  • James Frey
  • bob

    The last thing we really want is to encourage more private motor vehicle use. This study is ridiculous.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Mitch, the picture at the top was taken on the main roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge. Here’s another shot that shows it more clearly:

    I agree with your main point that not all scooter drivers are going to be as gutsy as this woman, though.

  • Rainman

    What makes anyone think they won’t be as gutsy? The whole reason why people are buying scooters is to add a little adventure and individuality to their commute. Sam’s office is very well respected at the DOT – hopefully with Iris leaving as commissioner, they will listen to a report like this and install someone with a little more street savvy who will add more dedicated motorcycle/scooter parking and stop towing those that are parked on the sidewalk.

  • Theresa

    I own a scooter and lived in Austin, Tx. a big scooter community all i can say is that they get great gas mileage and don’t smell like a big diesel truck!

  • mt14l

    I’ll take a touch of bias is Piaggio sponsored the survey – they sell Vespas, among other brands.

    However, many of the comments posted don’t quite reflect the truth.

    I did a journey from Seattle to LA, and was stunned at the number of gas guzzlers on the road, (although I feel the Canadians were worse, all running big stinking pick-ups) especially after two weeks in Europe, and Italy.

    Here in Australia, lots of people run big 4wd vehicles wanting to live the Australian Dream of “going bush” (not “Bush” -not Bush as in mad politician – bush as in country ), but never do, so these things end up clogging our city roads.

    The problem in Florence is not scooters, but old clapped out autos and trucks. Italy is enforcing Euro2 and Euro3 standards on scooters, meaning they run very clean and very lean, for the very reasons others have expressed concern over – polution. Old Vespas (and cheap crap made in Asia) may still pong, (and make lots of two stroke noise) but new models are very different.

    The problem is prising people out of their autos, and onto public transport (grossy undercapitalised here in Adelaide) or onto alternatives like scooters.

    at 70mpg – thats a lot cheaper and a lot cleaner than most cars!

  • lala

    What can we say, money talks.

  • lala

    Rainman, you can add a little “individuality” to your commute by riding a bike. With the sorry state of the bicycle infrastructure in this city, there is simply no reason to encourage people to switch to another type of motor vehicle.

    And hopefully the city will step UP its towing of scooters and motorcyles parked on the sidewalk, not step down.

  • ridwanzero

    Hello…I did a journey from Seattle to LA, and was stunned at the number of gas guzzlers on the road, (although I feel the Canadians were worse, all running big stinking pick-ups) especially after two weeks in Europe, and Italy.

    Here in Australia, lots of people run big 4wd vehicles wanting to live the Australian Dream of “going bush” (not “Bush” -not Bush as in mad politician – bush as in country ), but never do, so these things end up clogging our city roads.