12/12/2007 - 22:00

Born to be mild – city buzzes with scooter traffic

12/12/2007 - 22:00

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Motor scooters seem to provide a credible alternative to a lot of the transport issues facing modern cities and motorists – they’re cheap to run, they’re more environmentally friendly than cars, and they take up less space on our crowded roads.

Born to be mild – city buzzes with scooter traffic

Motor scooters seem to provide a credible alternative to a lot of the transport issues facing modern cities and motorists  – they’re cheap to run, they’re more environmentally friendly than cars, and they take up less space on our crowded roads.

Two years ago, as enthusiasm for scooters took off in Perth, retailers were benefiting from growth rates of about 40 per cent a year.

But the honeymoon period appears to be over, with sales having tailed off during the past 12 months.

According to data from marketing agency ERG, the number of scooters sold in Western Australia between January and October this year was 2,093, down about 13 per cent on the corresponding period last year.

Steve Laing, dealer principal of Joondalup-based Ace Scooters, says the incremental rise in the cost of fuel, rather than sharp price spikes, is partly to blame.

When petrol prices surged in September 2005, Ace sold out of stock due to the strength of demand. 

Subsequent increases in petrol prices haven’t been as severe, meaning the kick-on to sales at Ace have not been as strong, Mr Laing says.

Vmoto sales manager Tanwyn Travers said the effect of spiking petrol prices was significant.

“I’ve mapped it out and there’s a direct correlation between fuel prices and scooter sales – they trend exactly the same way,” Mr Travers said.

It costs less than $5 to fill the petrol tank of a typical scooter.

Mr Travers predicts scooter sales will increase next year.

“If fuel prices hit $1.50 like they’re expected to, and they bump up again in the new year, I think scooter sales will get another kick,” he said.

But Mr Travers said there was another reason for the decline in sales this year.

“Our dealers tell us that election years are always quieter, because people are less inclined to spend money,” he said.

Despite the latest numbers, scooter retailers say the long-term trend is positive for the industry.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that motorcycle usage increased by 24.8 per cent between 2002 and 2006, while passenger vehicle usage grew by only 10.8 per cent.

In WA, the number of REA automatic motorcycle licences issued – the minimum licence required to drive a 125cc or 250cc scooter – has more than tripled over the past five years, according to the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.

There were 36 REA licences issued in 2002-03, compared with 105 in the most recent financial year.

According to Matt Thomas, WA distributor for Bolwell Scoota Ltd, there has been a growing interest in large scooters during the past year.

“A lot of people are upgrading and getting bigger models. About half the scooters we sell now are above 50cc, whereas before it was only 25 per cent,” he said.

Mr Thomas said some customers were buying large scooters because they were giving up their cars, while others wanted improved performance.

“The 50ccs are great; they’re fun, but they’re not the most practical of vehicles,” he said.

“People want more power and they want to go on the freeway, so they’re upgrading or trading in.”

Ace Scooters’ Steve Laing said more people were interested in models of 125cc and over.

“Larger scooters are better – they’re more powerful, they can keep up with traffic and they have better technology,” he said.

But there’s a big drawback to consumer uptake, according to Mr Laing – a major shortage of licensing examiners.

“Recently, we had a customer who tried to book the test and was told there was no space, and there was a six-month waiting list,” he said.

“It impacts on the market and stops it from growing as fast as it could. People are making poor decisions [when they buy a scooter] because they want something more convenient, like a 50cc.”

Mr Laing said many licensing centres didn’t offer the test, which compounded the problem.

Another major issue for scooter users is a lack of parking bays.

The City of Perth’s parking committee is also believed to be considering the issue, following a 1,700-signature petition that was lodged with the city earlier this year.

Since March, the City of Fremantle has increased its number of motorcycle and scooter parking bays by 35 per cent, from 95 to 133.

Earlier this year, the council was considering amending its parking law to allow scooters to be parked on footpaths, similar to the strategy adopted in Melbourne.

However, while the council said it wanted to encourage environmentally friendly transport, it ruled out an amendment based on legal advice from the city’s insurer relating to public liability.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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