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70-90 miles per gallon? 'Nuff said

“I get really happy when I see the price of the pump go up,” says Charlie Urbizu, who owns Charlie’s Scooter Depot in Tampa. He says he has seen a spike in customers in six months.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

“I get really happy when I see the price of the pump go up,” says Charlie Urbizu, who owns Charlie’s Scooter Depot in Tampa. He says he has seen a spike in customers in six months.

You may have spotted them in your review mirror or in front of Starbucks.

With prices for crude oil increasing — it was recently well over $100 per barrel — some people in Tampa are opting for a cheaper means of transportation: the scooter.

Charlie Urbizu, 57, owner of Charlie's Scooter Depot, says he has seen about a 50 percent increase in customers in the past six months.

"I get really happy when I see the price of the pump go up," he said, laughing.

Urbizu, who drives a Triton Vento scooter from his home in Carrollwood to his shop on N Florida Avenue, opened the store two years ago after a trip to Europe.

"That's where I got the idea," he said. "Italy is all full of scooters."

Records from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles do not indicate a substantial increase in scooter registrations, but motor scooters are hard to track because, under Florida law, they are registered as motorcycles. As of January, 26,325 motorcycles were registered in Hillsborough County. The figure went to 26,559 in February and to 26,785 in March.

Some local drivers are dusting off scooters they bought years ago for recreation or buying new ones.

Alarmed by the increasing cost of gas, Eddie Hamp bought a Vespa a month ago.

"Gas prices are ridiculous now," he said. "Gas goes for $4, almost $5 a gallon in California, and it's going to hit the East. It's going to get bad."

He also lives in Carrollwood but works downtown as the chief executive of Members Mutual.

Hamp, 51, rides the Vespa to work about three days a week. It gets 70 miles per gallon. His Mercedes-Benz gets 23 miles per gallon, he said.

On a recent Friday, he took Florida Avenue to the office. After work, he drove the Vespa — with girlfriend Melanie Newkirk on the back — to an array of downtown hot spots, including the Hub, Fly Bar and Restaurant, the Rack, and Yeoman's Road Pub.

"It's a lot of fun," Newkirk, 43, said. "It's a good way to get around."

She sees many pros in driving a Vespa, like swirling around traffic and finding parking easily.

"It's cool," she said.

"And you look cool," Hamp added.

Mike Farmer, 39, has owned a Baccio scooter for two years.

He used to drive it only to the convenience store for a case of Budweisers or to run errands. He drives it more now because of the surge in gas prices.

On sunny days, Farmer rides the scooter, which gets 80 miles to the gallon, to the Port of Tampa, where he works, about a 10-mile drive from his home in the Egypt Lake area.

"I've saved well over enough money to buy another scooter in the past two years, no kidding," he said.

A.J. Jones, 51, lives in Davis Islands and drives his MZ Moskito every chance he gets. He has owned the scooter for five years and has put almost 71,000 miles on it.

He drives to Publix on Bayshore Boulevard, to Channelside for dinner, to the Green Iguana in Ybor City, to Ballast Point Park.

"I've always used it to try to save money on fuel, and I love riding it," Jones said.

Spartaco Giolito, 47, lives in Town 'N Country and manages Spartaco Trattoria Italiana in South Tampa. He has a Mercedes-Benz but often makes the 18-mile ride to work on a Honda Silver Wing 600.

"I found myself using it whenever I can," he said.

Brooke Gentile, owner of Discount Scooter on N Armenia Avenue, says his customers have been complaining about gas prices.

"We have always sold scooters, even before the gas prices started going crazy, mainly because you don't need insurance and it's a small investment," he said. "But now that the gas prices are going crazy, most people are buying them because of the gas prices."

>>fast facts

Scooters

• The average price of a scooter is $2,000.

• Scooters get about 75 to 90 miles per gallon of gas.

• The average gas tank holds 1 1/2 gallons.

• It's illegal to drive many motor scooters on the interstate.

• Insurance for scooter drivers is not mandatory, but may be a good idea.

• Drivers 21 and older can ride without helmets if they have personal injury protection or health insurance. Those under 21 or riding as passengers must always wear helmets.

• The state puts motor scooters under the motorcycle classification.

• As of March, 26,785 scooters and motorcycles were registered in Hillsborough County.

• In 2006, 521 people were killed on scooters and motorcycles in Florida.

Source: Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

70-90 miles per gallon? 'Nuff said 04/17/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 20, 2008 12:10pm]

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