FUTURISMO BYTES

Ditch the Porsche, buy a scooter


Futurismo Bytes is a podcast mini-series of quirky, unexpected insights into the drive toward tomorrow. Click here to learn how to subscribe to Futurismo.

On a particularly windy Monday evening in February, I found myself on a skateboard heading full speed into a snow bank.

If it was any other Monday, I would have been inside watching the latest episode of “The Bachelor.” But I needed to find an answer to a question I’ve had since the North American International Auto Show in January: Why do companies keep introducing personal transportation devices, and what makes them so much better than walking?

I asked my friend to teach me how to skateboard, thinking that if I got the hang of zooming down a sidewalk it may be easier to understand why companies are targeting that space. As I discovered, skateboards – one of the more traditional methods of outpacing pedestrians – are best left to those comfortable riding them.

However, automakers and startups have been coming up with their own devices to transport people over short distances, with a significantly lower learning curve. Hyundai showed an Ioniq scooter at CES. Audi has its own concept scooter that fits perfectly into its mobility concept car. Even Honda has something called the Uni-Cub, a vehicle that looks like a golf bag.

During NAIAS press days, it was pretty hard to go 10 feet without nearly running into someone on an electric scooter. The company responsible for the ruckus was Urb-E, a startup based out of Pasadena, Calif. Urb-e’s goal is to ease commuting headaches with a portable scooter that can tackle those distances too long to walk but too short to drive.

“You can use an Uber or Lyft to get to one point, the far distance, and then rely on this for your day to get around that city or that area,” George Jackson, Urb-E’s business development manager, told me at the company’s auto show booth.

And with automakers envisioning a future filled with self-driving taxi fleets replacing or complementing public transit in big cities, the demand for these devices could become even greater.

“It’s a fast-growing market for this type of device,” Jackson said.

While you may be seeing more and more scooters for adults on the sidewalk, you definitely won’t be seeing me on a skateboard. Listen to the latest Futurismo Byte above, or click here to learn how to subscribe.

You can reach Katie Burke at kburke@crain.com -- Follow Katie on Twitter: @KatieGBurke

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