- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

CHICAGO, March 11 (UPI) — A handful of Chicago postal workers are tooling about their routes this week aboard the Segway, the personal transportation vehicle touted as the next big thing.

"They looked so cute," U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Judy Winiarz said Tuesday. "They go down the driveway, out into the street, over to the next house, up the driveway, spin around, step off the back, deliver the mail, step back on and down they go. It's cute how they've developed a rhythm."

Winiarz said five carriers volunteered for the five-week test. The specially outfitted Segway Human Transporters have snow tires and a pair of carry baskets that allow the postal workers to tote some 70 to 75 pounds of mail — about twice the amount they normally take out of their vehicles for a delivery loop.

Winiarz said the volunteers started practicing last week to determine whether the Segways could handle the area's ice and snow. She said riders compare it to riding a moped or scooter.

Chicago actually is the ninth city in which the postal service has tested the vehicles. The Chicago Police Department, which in addition to officers in vehicles and on foot has a mounted police unit as well as bicycle patrols, also has tested them.

The Chicago postal service test involves 13 delivery routes — five in the city and eight in the suburbs.

The Segway is propelled by leaning forward. It stops when the rider stands straight up. Turns are made by twisting the left handle. Balance is maintained with gyroscopes. Since the vehicles do not yet have an automatic shutdown system, however, carriers have to keep a close eye on them to make sure someone doesn't speed off. Additionally, delivery routes normally take five hours and the Segway's batteries last only half that time.

In New Bern, N.C., one of the other communities where the postal service has tested the Segway, carrier Dave Johnson said using a Segway means a lot less wear and tear on legs and knees.

Winiarz said the postal service bought 40 of the units with an eye toward testing them in all sorts of terrain. Other cities where tests are being conducted include San Francisco; Tampa, Fla.; Chandler, Ariz.; Norman, Okla.; Memphis, Tenn.; New York's Bronx borough and Concord, N.H.

The consumer version costs $4,950 on Amazon.com.

Not everyone welcomes the Segway. In San Diego, the city council heard complaints from people with physical disabilities who fear the high-tech devices, which can travel at 12 mph, will pose a hazard on sidewalks.

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