April 25, 2014

Hilton Head Segway company draws fire from bicyclists, pedestrians

A company that gives Segway scooter tours on Hilton Head Island has drawn criticism from residents who say the electric vehicles don't belong on island pathways.

A company that gives Segway scooter tours on Hilton Head Island has drawn criticism from residents who say the electric vehicles don't belong on island pathways.

Since Segway of Hilton Head opened two weeks ago in Park Plaza, owner Steve Schultz said he has received numerous complaints from those walking or biking near Coligny Circle.

Some believe the two-wheeled, stand-up scooters steal space from bicyclists, joggers and those walking on paths near the south end of the island, Schultz said.

Others point to signs that say "no motorized vehicles" on the paths and ask the tour group -- usually six or seven Segways -- to ride in the street.

"Everyday there's someone who says we're not supposed to be here," Schultz said. "They aren't angry.

"We're just a new business, and they don't know who we are."

The Segway, introduced more than a decade ago as an alternative mode of personal transportation, is a tall, quirky device with two wheels, handlebars and a place for riders to stand. Riders lean forward to move forward, lean backward to go in reverse and move the handlebars to turn left or right. The devices cost about $7,000.

Though it has never become an everyday way to get around, it has found a niche in helping security guards patrol and replacing city walking tours in places such as Savannah and Charleston.

"You're up higher, and you have greater visibility to see things," Schultz said.

State law allows Segways on sidewalks. But Schultz said he understands the confusion from those who think they are prohibited.

An Atlanta native who recently moved to Hilton Head, he thought Segways were outlawed when he first arrived.

"My first impression was, 'Uh-oh, this isn't going to work here'" because of the signs, he said.

Town of Hilton Head Island officials were skeptical, too. A town employee even chased down one of Schultz' first tours, the owner said.

But a 2002 state statute makes an exception for Segways on "sidewalks, roadways, bicycle routes, paths or trails," according to the law.

That left Hilton Head no choice, town manager Steve Riley said.

"I've got to comply with state law," he said.

Still, Riley is not excited about Segway groups potentially clogging busy tourist areas, especially Coligny Beach.

Frank Babel, co-chairman of the Hilton Head Bicycling Advisory Committee, agrees.

"We do have some concerns about it," he said. "If it becomes popular, it does have a potential to create conflict with bicyclists and pedestrians."

Schultz argues that Segways occupy less space than bicycles and aren't noisy because they are battery-powered.

They also are slower, he says. Though they can reach 12 mph, Schultz keeps them at half that, he said.

"The purpose of this is not a motorized vehicle like a go-cart or a dune buggy," he said. "We get passed by bicycles every day."

Schultz maintains that his business reaches a market the island needs filled as tourists look for more activities than the beach.

He's considering moving his operation to office space in the Bi-Lo shopping center, closer to tourists in Coligny.

"I know there are parents asking, 'What else can we do?' on that third or fourth day at the beach," he said. "We're the couple hours of something else."

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