Segway in the City: Tourists need not walk to get around town

Fred Anderson bought his first Segway the moment they were introduced in Pittsburgh. He started giving tours and demonstrations to other people who were interested. Soon he was buying more Segways.

Now, Anderson, along with Earlene Woods, is co-founder of Segway In Paradise, a company that provides guided tours of Pittsburgh on Segways and sells used Segways.

Unveiled in December 2001, the Segway is a two-wheeled transportation device that is electrically powered and self-balancing. Once someone steps onto the Segway’s platform and grabs the handlebar, the machine is ready to go. All the user has to do is lean in the direction he or she wants to move and the Segway will move. Leaning forward causes the machine to move forward; leaning backwards causes it to move backwards. On newer models, leaning left and right will make the Segway turn in that direction.

In September 2003, Segway Inc. issued a voluntary product recall of 6000 Segway Human Transporter (HT) units. Segway found that when some units were near the end of their battery life, they failed to deliver enough power and caused the rider to fall.

On September 14, the company announced another recall, this time of all 23,500 of their units. Now called the Segway Personal Transporter (PT), units could “unexpectedly apply reverse torque to the wheels, which can cause a rider to fall.”

Segway In Paradise was notified by representatives of Segway Inc. of the recall within an hour of it being issued. Segway In Paradise in turn notified people who had purchased used Segways that had been recalled. Both issues were fixed with a free software upgrade. Representatives from the company would arrive and reload software on the machine.

In the 2003 recall, the units would fail only when riders continued to ride the machine despite a repeated low battery warning. “The machine starts shaking and beeping and you have about 10 seconds to get off,” Anderson said. “These people would wait two or three minutes and ride the machine again until it shut down.”

As for the recent recall, the unit would only malfunction if it was “tilted back and the rider comes off and then back onto the device within a short period of time,” according to Segway Inc. Once again, injured riders did not follow the Segway’s operating instructions.

Anderson had his own take on the possible malfunction. “We could never get it to do what it claimed to do,” said Anderson. “Segway found this by beating to death a new machine. It’s almost impossible to do it.”

Perhaps it is this commitment to safety on Segway Inc.’s part that helps to explain how the machines have spread all over the world. Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, and Washington are only a few of the many cities across the country where tours are given on Segways. There are even tours being conducted in San Francisco and Key West, Fla., where Segways are banned.

But the Segway isn’t purely for recreational purposes. It was also designed for use in security applications by police departments or the military.

There are more than 150 law enforcement agencies that use Segways for patrols. The Chicago Police Department plans to purchase 100 more Segways in the next five years in addition to the 50 they already use to patrol the city. As for Pittsburgh, residents have yet to see officers patroling downtown via Segway; for now, it’s only been tourists.

The Segway In Paradise tours cost $49 and last about two hours, including a 20-minute training session. Riders get to see the downtown area of the city, including Heinz Field, PNC Park, Station Square, Point State Park, PPG Plaza, and the Cultural District.

The tours are usually held twice a day, at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., although special appointments can be scheduled with the company.

Currently, Segway In Paradise is supplying a dozen units to set up a Segway obstacle course for the Carnegie Science Center as part of the SciTech Spectacular program scheduled for October.