World

Amid coronavirus pandemic, mopeds enjoy a moment in car-loving US

Women travel on an electric moped from the moped sharing company Revel in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. Source: Levine-Roberts/Sipa USA

Americans seeking to avoid public transport as well as save some dollars are hitting the streets on motorbikes, mopeds and scooters.

Long associated with narrow, cobbled streets in Europe and congested Asian megacities, scooters are now becoming a common sight in car-loving America as commuters shun public transport because of the coronavirus pandemic.

New Yorkers turned to the turquoise-blue rental mopeds of ride sharing company Revel in huge numbers in recent weeks, while scooter retailers are reporting a big uptick in sales.

"I decided a few months ago during all this craziness to start running a scooter," said 30-year-old Alan Taledia, who bought a 150 cc Vespa.

"I don't have to do any public transportation, so it's better for me. I feel more comfortable," the insurance worker added.

Sales of motorcycles and electric two-wheelers - popular amongst the Big Apple's army of food delivery drivers - are also booming as residents plump for cheaper alternatives to four wheels.

Andrew Hadjiminas - president of a Vespa, Piaggio, Aprilia and Moto Guzzi retailer in Brooklyn - says the store has sold more than 200 vehicles in the last three months.

"We are experiencing a positive sales growth over last year," he told AFP.

"As people start to think about their commute and mobility during and after this pandemic, they are searching for ways to get around that are safe and fun," Mr Hadjiminas added.

Riders travel on an electric moped from the moped sharing company Revel in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn in New York.
Riders travel on an electric moped from the moped sharing company Revel in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn in New York.
Levine-Roberts/Sipa USA

At Unik Moto in Long Island City, demand has tripled compared to July 2019, with some weeks seeing about 20 scooters being sold, according to general manager Chris Benson.

The shop, which has struggled to keep its inventory stocked, mainly sells models by the Taiwanese manufacturers Sanyang Motor company and Kymco.

"There was a big boom, up to now," Mr Benson told AFP.

Riding in America's most populated city, where car ownership is high and traffic can be bumper-to-bumper, comes with risks though.

Revel, which has done much to popularise mopeds, paused its New York services this week following the deaths of two riders, including a 26-year-old CBS reporter, in separate crashes.

Revel, founded by two American entrepreneurs, launched a pilot program in 2018 with 68 electric mopeds in Brooklyn.

Before suspending operations on Tuesday, its New York fleet had grown to 3,000 vehicles, each with a top speed of 30 mph, clocking 160,000 kilometres a day.

There were just over 4,000 trips on Revel scooters in the two weeks before New York City shut down in March, the company said.

In the last fortnight of June, rides were up to almost 18,000 daily, a spokeswoman for Revel said.

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