Monday, June 16, 2008

Segway vs. Other Forms of Transportation

With gas way over $4/gallon, many people have begun considering alternate forms of transportation. As someone who actually owns a car, bicycle, and a Segway, let me briefly recount my experiences using each method (as well as public transportation and walking) commuting 3 miles to work in Washington DC:
  • Car: Driving 3 miles to work takes about 8 minutes. Oh, I'm sorry, are you looking for a time quote DURING rush hour? Oh. Well in that case, it takes 20-30 minutes. During the summer, it's also 90+ degrees here, which means I have the A/C blasting and am burning through the $4.15 gallon of gas far more quickly than the 25 mpg I'm supposed to get. When I finally get to work, I can park in a garage for around $10 (a good price for this city), or drive around for a while, find a meter somewhere, and keep pumping $1/hour in quarters into it all day (thus ruining my productivity at work as I constantly have to break my train of thought to go downstairs and feed the meter). Or I could just pay the $235/month for a monthly garage pass. Either way, we're talking lots of time, lots of gas, and lots of money for parking.
SUMMARY: ~25 minutes, $10+ in parking and gas, NOT stinky when I get there.
Initial cost: $12,000-40,000+, depending on how fancy you want to get.
  • Bicycle: The most common response when people find out I have a Segway is, "Why didn't you get a bike?" Well, I have a bike. Thing is, biking up and down hills for a few miles in 90 degree weather with swamp-like humidity tends to cause incredible levels of perspiration and general stinkiness. What a great way to start the day, huh? Sure, I could shower in the little locker room at work, but I don't always want to deal the logistical questions of bringing clothes to work, showering there, etc. That said, when I do take the bike, I go down hills at about 20 mph and up hills at about 8 mph. On average it takes about 15 minutes to go three miles.
SUMMARY: ~15 minutes, no transportation cost, STINKY when I get there.
Initial cost: $200-2,500+, depending on how fancy you want to get.
  • Public transportation: I don't live near the Metro, so my only option is to take the bus. Some people might like waiting 20 minutes in the heat for three city buses to arrive in a clump, and then standing crammed in there like sardines for the next 25 minutes while drunken homeless men breath on you. I don't.
SUMMARY: ~45 minutes, $1.35 in fare (one way), not TOO stinky when I get there (but have to deal with a lot of stink on the way).
Initial cost: NONE.
  • Walking: I always love how health-minded people get when confronted with the prospect of riding a Segway around. "What ever happened to WALKING?" ask Comic Book Guy lookalikes who rarely venture out of their basement. But let's be fair and examine walking as an alternative. Sometimes, when it's a really beautiful day, say 65-70 degrees and sunny with a light breeze, I'll walk home from work. It only takes about 50 minutes and sometimes I stop off at the bookstore. How pleasant. Problem is, I don't generally like to take my sweet time walking TO work in the morning. Also, the weather is not usually as cooperative. DC humidity will make dress clothes stick to your body in about 10 minutes.
SUMMARY: ~50 minutes, no transportation cost, KINDA stinky when I get there.
Initial cost: NONE.
  • Segway: At its top speed of 12.5 mph, you can glide a mile (silly as it may be, that's the verb we use) in about five minutes. When you throw in waiting at crosswalks, it takes about 17 minutes to go 3 miles. Going downhill, I am passed by bicycles. Going uphill, I pass every bicycle. Either way, I never break a sweat. Riding the thing is incredibly fun, and after a while you tend to not notice the fact that people are staring. (Note: Most stares/shout-outs are of the "Holy crap it's a Segway!" variety, as opposed to "Holy crap it's a Nerd!" variety.) I lock the Segway up against a pole outside and set the alarm. Don't have to worry about changing clothes.
SUMMARY: ~17 minutes, a few cents in electricity to charge it (takes about 10 cents to fully charge and gets 20 miles on a charge), NOT stinky when I get there.
Initial cost: $4,500-5,500, depending on how fancy you want to get.

[I cannot compare driving a scooter (Vespa, etc.) because I haven't done that. Scooters get very good mpg so that saves you money, but you also have to buy insurance so that more than cancels out any savings. You also have to deal with traffic, and the fact that some people wouldn't really feel safe driving a light motorcycle around the city -- I know I wouldn't.]

Anyway, that's the breakdown. I've absolutely loved my Segway and put on about 600 miles in the year I've had it. It's not a perfect solution (not as fun to ride in the rain or cold), but it's better than most I've found! If anyone in the area would like to take a test glide, feel free to contact me.


LoudMusic said...

What I don't understand is, if transportation and climate are that big of an issue, what's keeping you in DC? Why not just move where it's not such a difficult place to deal with?

I dig the Segway and I think you've put it to great use. I just don't understand putting up with the issues that cause you to need it.

Matt said...

LoudMusic, the irony of amazing and wonderful cities is that they inevitably come with traffic issues, and often with climate issues as well. Boston rocks but the winters are brutal. Any big city has traffic issues.

I LOVE DC. It's so vibrant and amazing and there's so much culture and it's the center of our democracy and I have so many singing opportunities here and so many people are so intelligent and interesting. Not to mention the area of the law I'm interested in (communications law) is only practiced here!

DC is an amazing city. I'm honestly fairly shocked that anyone would even suggest moving just because one doesn't like the traffic and weather in the summer!

Di said...

I agree with Matt. The irony is that these transportation issues are so complex in DC BECAUSE there are so many options... bus, train, bike, walk, drive, or any combination thereof. Despite the issues, it's infinitely cheaper and less stressful to use public transpotation or a bike/Segway in the city (once you work out your routine) than it is to have to get in the car every day and drive several miles to work. That is only one of the many aspects of suburban life that I find stressful. Urban living is AWESOME.

I haven't owned a car in years and I've never felt freer.

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt
Just wondering

1) why you don't factor Segway insurance in your comparison of transport modes.

2) why maintenance costs (battery dies after several hundred charges) aren't accounted for in the Segway. There may be other maintenance costs but I think it's fair to say that a bike would come closest to the ideal of zero or very little maintenance cost with some basic precautions (oiling, not skidding constantly, adjusting brakes).

3) biking in the summer. I don't get how a change of shirt or pants is a big issue if it's that hot. Is this really a logistics issue? I can carry that easily in a very very small backpack and change in the toilet in 2 minutes.

4) I watched one of your vids and it didn't look hilly or sweat-inducing on a bike to me but I could be wrong.

4) Your enthusiasm is good and all, but I've gotta wonder if you work for Segway sometimes! I just don't know why you'd go through all that and am a bit suspicious of any real benefits versus bike, frankly. Don't you want to sit down on your trip sometimes? If your trip was 3 miles more, wouldn't you rather take the bike? I'm guessing most people travel further to work than this, so I don't know if it's such a realistic proposition standing up all that time.

5) I'm very surprised the Segway hasn't attracted more attention being locked up outside! Can you talk more about the anti-theft deterrents on the thing?

All in all, I see way too many negatives with the thing versus a bike, but I do want to learn more.

Celsus said...

qMatt, wonderful blog, wish I had known of it when I was trying to decide whether to buy a Segway. I purchased one regardless and I enjoy it, but your situation seems very well suited for its use. I'm inspired by your enthusiasm and can relate to most every aspect of your writings. It is exhausting, however, to read and respond to the detractors, such as the recent posting by "anonymous," but you do a great job at that as well. Keep up the great work...

Matt said...

Thank you Di and Celsus. It can be tiring defending my choice. But I will try once again, for Anonymous's sake:

1. Insurance: Good point. The Segway doesn't require any insurance. So actually this goes in the Segway's favor. I have a car and pay insurance on that regardless of whether or not I own a Segway, but for people without a car that's another big point in the Segway's favor.

2) Maintenance costs: I didn't include those because they vary so widely based on how rough one is with a Segway or car. Yes you have to replace the battery after a few years if you want to keep the 20-mile range, but you also have to do maintenance on a car -- oil changes, new tires, things break, etc. Ultimately it's too tough to compaer because there are too many variables, but a Segway beats a car in this regard. It does not beat a bike, however, which you are correct has very low maintenance costs.

3) Biking in the Summer: Dude. Trust me. Biking in 90 degree heat and humidity in DC SUCKS. And I don't always want to have to get a major workout (lots of hills here) just to go to work. And I don't want to have to shower and change my clothes. Don't you understand that?

4) Enthusiasm: I take it you have never ridden a Segway. You can't appreciate how insanely awesome it is until you actually ride one. There is just no comparison to a bike. I have both and it is MUCH more enjoyable to ride on a Segway. There is a reason almost everyone who takes the plunge ends up becoming a Segway disciple!

5) Security: It attracts tons of attention being locked up outside but it's very secure. I lock it to a pole with a U-lock, and I set the alarm. The Segway will only start up with the Bluetooth key that I have with me at all times. Without the key, it is impossible to start the thing. If someone did manage to cut the U-Lock, the Segway would shake and beep as soon as they tried to move it, and the wheels lock so you can't roll it. It's over 100 pounds and very awkward to pick up. So unless they have a van waiting and two guys to throw it in, the Segway is secure. Plus even if they did take it, they could never ever start it.

Bikes are fun but Segways are awesome.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. Apologies if I've made you 'defend' things again, but really... I don't know why you do this, to be honest. Hope I'm not being a pain by rsponding here.

As a biker, I can uderstand not wanting to sweat just fine. I think we are clear on that.

If your commute was longer, wouldn't you want to sit down? You didn't answer that. Also you completely ignore electric bikes, which offer no-sweat along with the choice of pedal power when desired, so you're not limited to the battery life on a Segway. All for less cost. Why Segway over elctric bike?

Your car comparisons are definitely valid; I don't think anyone here argues it's cheaper than a car. But verus bike, no contest. Anyway, my point was you need to account for battery replacement costs in your 'savings'. Any idea how much replacement batteries are?

Most people travel longer distances to get to work than what you did, which I would argue would make the Segway impractical for most trips, staning up all that time, not to mention battery limitations. Also can tell me which parts of your vid are hilly?

Matt said...

Anonymous (identify yourself!):

• If my commute was longer, my legs would get slightly tired, yes. I don't much like riding the Segway over 5 miles, but a lot of people commute 10, 12, even 17 miles one way on it. It's definitely less tiring than riding a bike uphill.

• Electric bikes are another solution, as is BionX, which is a very interesting bike add-on. But electric bikes don't offer the same thrill as riding a Segway. Commuting on a Segway is FUN. I'll ask you again: Have you ever ridden one?

• Replacement batteries are expensive. Over a grand. So yes that definitely adds a major cost to the Segway, but you only need to replace the battery after several years if your range is no longer sufficient. Lithium batteries don't just DIE; they no longer hold as much of a charge.

• I'm not sure which "vid" you're referring to. I haven't taken a video of my commute. There was one video I took of a 2-mile jogging loop I do sometimes, which actually has an insane 16% incline, but you can't even tell it on the video.