Alaskans and visitors to the state may be able to rent or take tours on a Segway Human Transporter - the motorized personal transportation device touted as revolutionizing the way people move - as soon as next summer.
But while the electrical transport device requires very little power, getting permission to use it in cities around the state may require quite a bit of energy from Alaska Travel Adventures, the tour company planning to import Segways.
Alaska Travel Adventures plans to spend close to $500,000 on a fleet of 100 Segways for in-state operations next summer.
"It's unique - that's probably one of the biggest draws," said Mike Windred, company director of operations. "It's obviously very environmentally sound, it runs on a rechargeable battery and they're fun to ride actually."
To ride a Segway, a person stands on a platform and grips handlebars. When the rider leans forward, the wheels silently roll forward. When the rider leans back, the Segway stops, then reverses. To turn, the rider twists the grip on the left handlebar.
Segway Human Transporter
Bill on personal motor vehicles passed by the Alaska Legislature in 2001
The 80-pound vehicle can reach speeds of up to 12 miles per hour and runs on a battery that can be recharged in a standard electrical outlet.
Alaska Travel Adventures hopes to rent the devices or offer tours in Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Anchorage, Talkeetna, Wrangell and Juneau, Windred said.
The company is working out details of the business plan, including prices and the services to be offered in each town, Windred said. It will base local operations on each town's traffic situation.
"Downtown Juneau isn't a good place to set people off on their own," Windred said. "We'd either do a tour, or we'd rent them from someplace with a map of where people can and can't go."
Alaska Travel Adventures is allowed to operate the vehicles in Juneau, the company said. The Alaska Legislature passed a bill in 2001 permitting the use of an "electric personal motor vehicle" on sidewalks, bike paths, streets or areas reserved for pedestrian use.
The same bill states that the rule does not override ordinances passed by municipalities. Interpretation of this bill will be at the heart of the debate.
"Alaska Travel Adventures suggests that the state law allows them to operate on sidewalks, but my reading of the state law suggests that the state allows municipalities to come to their own conclusions," said Skagway City Manager Bob Ward.
Skagway's city attorney is drafting an ordinance to ban the devices, and the City Council will consider the issue as soon as possible, Ward said.
Though he isn't sure the council will ban Segways, Ward does believe the panel will have to think twice before allowing Skagway's trails and sidewalks to get any more congested.
"I don't know that they will be welcome with open arms in any community," Ward said. "I suspect it will be a lot of scrambling in many communities just to figure out how to deal with these things."
In Anchorage, the company may run into some problems introducing the Segways. Sgt. Nancy Reeder, who leads the traffic unit at the Anchorage Police Department, said Segways are illegal on sidewalks, bike paths, recreation trails or streets within the municipality.
Juneau City Manager Rod Swope does not know of any specific ordinances that would ban or allow Segways in town, but said he wouldn't be surprised if Alaska Travel Adventures runs into some resistance.
"My gut reaction ... is that I can't imagine that there wouldn't be concerns," Swope said. He said one solution for the issue would be if Alaska Travel Adventures had a private course for the Segways.
The Juneau Police Department does not have a stand on the motorized devices, said Assistant Chief of Police Greg Browning. But the department will have to deal with them eventually.
"I anticipate there's going to be a lot of questions about this," he said.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.