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Environment | Economy

Scooter Popularity Raises Questions About Pollution

Higher gas prices have led to a surge in the popularity of scooters.  And not just new scooters. 

There’s also huge demand to restore and rebuild older scooters.  But some people are concerned that  older scooters pollute more than newer models.  

Pete Springer visited a Portland scooter shop to get the inside story.

Patrick Fitzgibbons “1968 GT 125 that actually has a more modern 150 engine in it.”

Patrick Fitzgibbons knows scooters. 

He owns ten of them and he’s also co-owner and head mechanic at Ptown Scooters in southeast Portland.

The scooters Fitzgibbons wrenches on are often forty  years old or more. 

Most of them have two-stroke engines.

Patrick Fitzgibbons “Laws of physics dictate that uh, because it fires on every rotation of the crank, it actually creates more power per the stroke.  That’s really attractive to a lot of people.  Because of that, they potentially are a lot more fuel efficient.”

The trade-off though, is that many older two-stroke scooters emit more pollution than newer four-stroke models.  But — that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily worse for the environment.

For example, two-stroke engines are lighter and more efficient, so they tend to use less gas than newer engines. 

And older scooters already exist.  There’s no need to manufacture a new product — a process that creates its own pollution.

Plus, some newer scooters just aren't designed to last.   Or to be maintained easily.

Patrick Fitzgibbons “A lot of them aren’t really even designed to be worked on that much.  I mean getting your hands in there to change a spark plug is brutally annoying.  Where as if you take a look at this engine right here, you pull off the side panel, here’s your carburetor, here’s your spark plug.  It’s designed in such a way that average joe can do a lot of the routine maintenance themself and just keep his bike going.”

And that’s the difference between a disposable scooter and long-term investment, says  Jim Smith, a co-owner of Ptown Scooters. 

He says he constantly educates customers about cheaper scooters on the market.

Jim Smith “Where am I gonna get this thing worked on if I’m not gonna do it myself?  Are parts going to be available?  Are accessories available?” 

Smith says a cheaper scooter can actually be more expensive in the long-run because it has a shorter lifecycle. 

The lifecycle of a product is something that even state officials are urging people to consider before buying.

William Knight is a spokesman for the Department of Envirnomental Quality.

William Knight “We don’t just look at what happens when we throw something away, but we also look at how we’re going to dispose of it or when we release a product, what’s going to happen to it after it’s ended.”

And for scooters, that lifecycle may be the only way to measure their environmental impact. 

That’s because DEQ doesn’t regulate emissions from scooters.  There’s just not enough of them on the road. 

But even so, Knight has the same advice for motorists as he does for scooter owners who want to reduce emissions.

William Knight “The single best thing you could do is limit your driving.”

Knight says if you do have to drive a car or ride a scooter, it’s best to keep up on your  maintenance.

That’s advice Ptown's Patrick Fitzgibbons heartily agrees with. 

He says some customers use low-grade oil without realizing it makes their scooters run less efficiently while increasing maintenance costs.

Patrick Fitzgibbons “When we do encounter people that are running old, nasty, cheap two-stroke, we do try, and, you know, hand them, show them a bottle of modern full-synthetic bio-friendly stuff if they’re really that interested.”

But Fitzgibbons says the biggest piece of advice he has for those looking to buy a scooter is: do your research.