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Scooters rev up popularity

When Fahad Bishara, a second-year history graduate student, arrived on campus last fall, he needed a cheap, reliable method of transportation between classes and his off-campus apartment.

As a Kuwait native, however, Bishara did not have an American driver's license and the high price of gas and insurance put a car beyond his means-so he decided to try a motorized scooter. After a year of paying less than three dollars per week for gas and never having to search out a parking spot, Bishara said he could not be happier with his choice, and he is not alone.

Citing convenience, lack of expense and concern for the environment, many Duke students, employees and professors have traded four wheels for two. Motorcycles and motorized scooters-often referred to as "Vespas" for the European brand that originated the vehicles-are cropping up in parking lots and bike racks across campus.

Ninety-eight motorcycles are currently registered with the Parking and Transportation Services, said Manager of Parking Services Charles Landis. The department has no record of scooters, which do not have license plates, he said.

However, O'Neal Tickle, general manager of local dealer Triangle Cycles, estimated that scooter sales to Duke students and employees, which make up about a quarter of his business, have increased by 50 percent in the last two years.

Brantley Dean, a graduate student in the Divinity School and owner of a Yamaha C3 scooter, said he has noticed the increase and the corresponding crowding of popular scooter parking spots on campus, especially the bike rack outside the Divinity School. "Last year there were maybe two [scooters] there," he said. "Now the idea has really caught on."

Motorbikes at Duke run the spectrum from low-powered scooters, which cannot get above 40 miles per hour, to motorcycles suitable for highway and long-distance travel, and the reasons for riding are as diverse as the vehicles themselves.

"Gas prices being what they are, it's more economical," said Dave Potter, an library assistant at Perkins Library who rides his Yamaha 750 motorcycle to work each morning. Potter's bike averages about 45 miles per gallon of gas, more than most cars, but some scooters can tally up to 110. Over time that fuel efficiency can add up to major savings for motorbike owners. When he drove a truck, Dean said he regularly paid more than $120 per month for gas. Since he purchased the C3 this August, he has spent $6 a month.

Unlike cars, two-wheeled vehicles can also be parked anywhere, saving time and a trek across campus for owners. Owen Flanagan, James B. Duke professor of philosophy and professor of neurobiology, regularly makes the trip between East and West campuses on his Vespa and said this is a major perk.

"I scoot around town and then park anywhere I wish," he wrote in an e-mail.

Landis said that overall, commuters at Duke are growing more aware of the environmental concerns of driving, leading them to choose alternative means of transit-walking, biking, ride-sharing and now motorcycles and scooters as well.

The uniqueness of motorbikes also means their owners are often the targets of curiosity on campus.

"For a lot of people transportation is a big issue," Bishara said. "Scooters really pique their interest."

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