When the doors on BART trains swish open, there will be one sound absent from the area: the dim whir of Segway scooters.
Last week, a rider lost control of a Segway PT at the 24th Street BART station in San Francisco, sending the two-wheeled scooter onto the train tracks. The scooter was struck by a BART train, which halted train service for more than half an hour, causing passengers to miss their flights at San Francisco International Airport, according to BART spokesman Linton Johnson.
After that incident, BART officials decided to impose a 45-day ban on the battery-operated devices.
"We are starting to see more of [the scooters] on BART, and so we are trying to formulate policies on them before they become an issue," Johnson said.
As gas prices continue to rise and Bay Area Segway dealers report a spike in sales of the scooters, transit officials say they are concerned the influx of riders won’t mix well with traffic, pedestrians and bicycles.
Segway enthusiasts, however, say the scooters are as safe as bicycles.
"They weigh only 105 pounds, take up as much space as a file cabinet and there’s no noise, no emissions," said Jim Heldberg, owner of Pacifica-based Segway of San Francisco.
Heldberg said the scooters currently follow the same rules as bicycles in San Francisco: banned from sidewalks but allowed in designated lanes.
Last year, controversy arose when The City’s Recreation and Park Commission voted to allow Heldberg’s company to offer Golden Gate Park tours on Segways. Segway tours also operate on routes at Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, the Palace of Fine Arts and even into Russian Hill.
But BART isn’t ready to make a decision on whether riders should be allowed on trains. Johnson said BART officials would likely consider two Segway policies: one for the physically disabled and another for able-bodied riders.
Other transit agencies are focusing on the issue of Segways as well.
Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said Segways are not allowed on Caltrain cars, but the agency is developing a policy for them.
Muni spokesman Judson True said the agency does not generally allow Segways, but would work to make accommodations for a user with disablities. So far, however, The agency has not had been presented with that situation, True said.
Meanwhile, Heldberg said his company is gearing up for the August opening of a new sales office in the South of Market area — the first Segway dealership in San Francisco. He said the business will target residents of local condominiums who could "leave the car at home and keep the Segway in the closet."