Juneau police ask to keep scooters

Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Juneau police officers who tried out Segway Human Transporters late this summer said they "never" want to return them.

A nationwide recall of the two-wheeled, powered scooters was announced Friday. The same day, Juneau Assistant Police Chief Greg Browning was returning from a St. Louis conference, where he presented findings of their successful trial late this summer in Alaska's capital.

"The feedback was mostly positive," he said. "We've asked if we could keep them through November."

The Anchorage-based Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-Northwest supplied police with the Segways for a trial. It also provided training for 10 officers.

Friday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of all 6,000 scooters that had been sold, saying three people had been hurt when the batteries ran low. One suffered a head wound that required stitches.

The manufacturer, which notified the federal agency of the problem, has offered to install for free new software that will warn when battery power is running down and automatically shut down the machines. Newer scooters will come equipped with the software, The Associated Press reported.

Browning said Juneau police have kept the batteries on their Segways charged, and he was unaware of the sort of problem addressed in the recall.

Officers wear helmets while operating the Segways, just as they do when they ride a bicycle, Browning pointed out. The machines have a top speed of about 12 mph.

In his report, Browning discussed the department's use of the Segway downtown, near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, at Auke Bay and at an Aug. 15 high school football game.

Officers Chris Burke and Paul Comolli reported no problem with the steepness of Juneau streets. The report said the Segway had no problem with a part of Franklin Street that has a 40 percent slope.

"When you compare (a Segway) to a bike, you can do everything you can do on a bike and more," the officers' report said, adding that the scooters "are more user- and community-friendly" than bikes.

Browning said no weapons were used on the Segway, but the officers' report concluded that a Segway would be a more stable platform than a bicycle in such situations.

The recall hasn't changed the plans of a local tour company to put Segways on Juneau streets next tourist season.

Mike Windred, director of operations for Alaska Travel Adventures, said the company is planning how the machines will be used in Juneau. The company tried two this summer.

"We haven't come across the problems" associated with the recall, Windred said. The new machines would have the new software, he added.

Browning said the police department hasn't decided whether it will invest in Segways of its own, assuming grant money is available.

A Segway costs about $5,000. A bicycle costs about $1,200, Browning said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at ony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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