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Save money, save the planet

by Marene Gustin

If visions of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn gaily dashing about Rome on a Vespa aren’t enough to make you consider a scooter, think about this: two-wheeling will save you money, and it just may help save the planet.

For attorney Dan Lundeen, zipping around town on his scooter just makes since. “It just seems silly to drive a big car a couple of blocks,” he says. “With a good tailwind I can go 35 mph and I don’t worry about parking spaces.” Plus, he only spends about $5 every two weeks to fill up his tank.

Matthew Creede, owner of Apollo Scooters, started his store more than seven years ago, at a time when Houstonians were all about the big pickups and SUVs. It’s taken awhile, but he’s seen sales rise for his scooters, cycles, and Segways. Business was so good after last year’s four-dollar gas prices that he now has three locations. Creede says that even using a scooter for half of your driving can save as much as $100 a week on gas and insurance, plus scooter owners find it saves them time. “Getting around in traffic, not having to hunt for a parking space,” he says.

And if that isn’t cheap enough for you, how about an all-electric scooter?

Veloteq Corporation is a privately held Houston-based company with a Shanghai manufacturing plant that produces electric scooters. They began selling the scooters in British Columbia, and last spring Gulf Coast Veloteq, a distributor, opened a showroom here in Houston.

“A 750-watt motor takes one kilowatt of energy,” Jock Drummond, GCV president, says. “You plug it in, and it costs about 15 cents to charge. It will run for about 35 to 40 miles off that charge.” Veloteq scooters range in price from $1,500 to $2,000 and come with such features as cruise control and antitheft devices. And they come with detachable pedals, just in case.

Classified as low-speed electric bicycles by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, these scooters are street legal, require no registration or motorcycle license and get up to about 20 mph on the road.

But it isn’t just the two-wheelers that are available. Houston Electric Cars sells Zenn cars, Skys, and Benjys, which are cute-as-a-bug e-convertibles. Some are basically golf carts on ‘roids, others seat up to 11. These little beauties run $8,000 to $21,000, can net you tax credits, and cost less than two cents per mile to operate.

“Plus insurance is cheaper and they’re easier to finance,” says owner Rick Ehrlich, who started the dealership last summer. The neighborhood vehicles will hit 35 mph and can go about 35 to 40 miles on a four-hour charge. Just plug it into a home outlet overnight and you’re ready to roll. Ehrlich says he has no problem dashing about downtown in his peppy e-car. And, besides being practically free to drive—no gas, no oil, no transmission to break down—these little babies just may save the planet.

“An SUV puts out enough carbon gas to fill Reliant Stadium every month,” says Ehrlich. “Electric cars make no pollution, and I really think the salvation of the human race depends on solar panels and electric cars.”

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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