More drivers trade 4 wheels for 2 as gas prices skyrocket
BY GERRY BELLETT
As gas prices have jumped dramatically since 2000, so has the number of people riding motorcycles and scooters.
Between 2000 and 2007 ICBC has recorded a 78 per cent increase in the numbers of people insuring themselves to ride two-wheeled vehicles.
In 2000 gas cost about 60 cents a litre, but with gas prices now heading to $1.30 a litre, more commuters are parking their cars and wheeling out scooters. And the most popular vehicle is the 49-cc scooter, which can be ridden by anyone with a B.C. driver’s licence without having to qualify for a Class 6 motorcycle licence.
“We must have sold 400 in the last year,” Carter Honda assistant sales manager Andy Pitts said of the company’s Jazz scooter. “Five years ago we’d have sold about half of those.
“It’s definitely related to the price of gas. We find people park the car in the summer and take the scooter to work or for running errands around the city.
When you take in the price of gas and the cost of insurance — the scooter pays for itself. You’ll spend $5 a week on gas instead of $50.”
The Jazz retails for about $2,000. It won’t go faster than 60 kilometres an hour and is designed for city use only.
Sales of the larger scooters and motorcycles are also strong, he said, but people buying those machines weren’t necessarily doing so to escape big gas bills.
“The 250 and 600 cc scooters and the 750 cruiser motorcycles are still a lot more economical than driving a car, but once you get into the sport bikes it’s not so good,” Pitts said.
ICBC official Kathy Taylor said there was no licence required for riding an electrical-assisted bicycle although one could only be operated on the road by a person 16 or older who must wear a helmet.
Reem Pirbhai and husband Ali recently opened a Vespa dealership on Clark Drive, selling the Italian-made scooters made famous in the 1960s. They don’t seem to mind how high gas prices go. “It kinda helps us,” Reem Pirbhai said. “There’s no doubt that the majority of people coming in are concerned with the price of gas.”
The couple got into the business after they sold one of their cars and took to riding around town on a Vespa.
“We loved it so much we decided to open a dealership,” she said. “Vancouver’s got great potential for scooter sales. The city is so eco-friendly and trendy and we have such a densified downtown.”
Since opening seven weeks ago, they have been selling about seven scooters a week but expect to do better this month. “May will be the big month for us,” she said. The popularity of motorcycles and scooters has resulted in longer waiting times for motorcycle training at North Vancouver’s ProRide Motorcycle Training School, which has been instructing new drivers since 1999.
“Last year the waiting time was about two to three weeks but now it’s about six weeks,” owner Daniel Kaufman said. “There’s no doubt the price of gas is playing its part.”
Adele Tompkins, executive director of the B.C. Coalition of Motorcyclists, said it was time local governments began making Metro Vancouver motorcycle-friendly.
“In London and other big cities in Europe the authorities go out of their way for motorcyclists but that’s not the case here,” she said.
Tompkins said Vancouver was clamping down on noisy bikes and seemed to be tarring all motorcyclists with the same brush.
Given the rise in the numbers of people using 49-cc scooters, Tompkins said it was time for the government to require such riders to get a proper motorcycle licence.
“I don’t think people who have been driving a car all their life should be allowed to just get on a scooter,” she said. “It’s pretty dangerous and you are vulnerable in traffic.
“Statistics show that in 66 per cent of crashes involving a two-wheeled vehicle and a car, it’s the fault of the car driver.”
BCAA traffic safety foundation executive director Allan Lamb said the accident rate involving motorcyclists and scooter riders was rising in B.C .
Statistics showed that while 25 riders died in the province in 1998, 44 riders were killed in 2007.
Lamb said the majority of these deaths involved riders in the 16-to-25 year age range. Of the 341 motorcycle fatalities in B.C. between 1998 and 2007, 86 involved persons in 16-to-25 range. Given this group represented only 2.4 per cent of licensed riders, Lamb said young riders had a fatality rate 1,200 per cent higher than those over 25.
“Risk taking and impaired driving are the main reasons for these deaths and police records indicate a significant increase in the numbers of alcohol-related deaths,” Lamb said.