Digital advertising agency managing director Simon McMaster uses a scooter for part of his daily commute. Photo: Stephen Lacey
When Simon McMaster leaves his house in the morning, he doesn't reach for his car keys, but for a helmet. The 42-year-old MD and founder of Hive Collective, a digital advertising agency, is one of a growing band of dedicated scooter commuters.
McMaster's particular scooter is a Micro Black, a Swiss-designed machine made specifically for adults to get from A to B in a hurry . . . relatively speaking. And being powered only by your feet, it's undoubtedly an environmentally friendly way to commute.
“I love it,” says Sydney-based McMaster. “I don't scoot all the way into the city from Annandale, that would be stretching it a bit, but I use it to get me down to the light rail. And I use it to get me around the city. It saves me lots on taxi fares and parking and it keeps me fit.”
Rockhampton solicitor Brian McGowran rides his skateboard to work.
He says being an executive on a push scooter isn't without its challenges.
“I do get some funny looks sometimes, especially if I'm dressed in a suit and tie. The receptionists often have a giggle when you roll in for a meeting and ask them to store the scooter behind their desk. But it folds right up, so it's pretty bloody handy.”
With Australia's dire track record in public transport, rising petrol prices and crowded roads, it's little wonder that increasing numbers of executives are finding cleverer ways to get to the office – such as the unicyclist often spotted crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge during peak hour each morning and afternoon.
Or John Maclurcan, the consultant project manager who used to slip on his suit and tie in the mornings before stepping to the kerb, hanging out his thumb and hitch-hiking to work in the Sydney CBD from Cremorne.
“I'd very rarely have to wait longer than a couple of minutes to get a ride,” says Maclurcan, who is now semi-retired. “It was a very quick way to get into the city for me, much quicker than catching the ferry. Plus drivers usually liked an extra person in the car so they could travel in the transit lane.”
And it's back to the future for Rockhampton solicitor Brian McGowran of McGowran Lawyers. Six months ago, the 43-year-old bought a Z-flex longboard and started skating the 2.5 kilometres from his home to his practice in the middle of the city. Now he's known throughout Rockhampton as "the sidewalk solicitor".
“The trip takes me about 15 minutes,” McGowran says. “I really love it, especially the steep decent into a downhill carpark, where I pass all the commuters in their cars. I'm usually wearing my ridiculously large headphones and listening to AC/DC screeching out Shoot to Thrill.”
McGowran says he gets lots of positive comments as he skates past in his co-ordinated Adidas tracksuit, or boardshorts and T-shirt (he gets changed into a suit at the office). His two youngest sons, a nine- and a seven-year-old, think he "looks cool". However, the oldest boy is not convinced.
“My 13-year-old just thinks it's another way to embarrass him.”
Speaking of embarrassing, Rob Morrison, the Sydney-based creative director of OgilvyOne, drives a 1977 Mini Moke to work.
“I live in Paddington and work in St Leonards, and public transport between the two places is a nightmare,” Morrison says. “The bus, train, bus takes me a good hour, whereas even in heavy traffic, the Moke gets me there in 20 to 25 minutes.”
That's when it's actually on the road. During his first month with the car, it broke down in the middle of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. And he says it can be a tad frightening when big trucks are lumbering past.
“To be honest it doesn't steer very well, or stop very well, and it can be a dangerous little bugger, but I've managed to forgive the Moke, because it genuinely makes people smile,” he says.
His work colleagues have mixed feelings. “The girls in the agency love it, but a couple of the guys can't believe it's even allowed on the road.”
Electric scooters are also becoming popular with commuters all over the planet. In San Francisco a company called Scoots has recently been launched that works in a similar fashion to carshare programs. Electric scooters are parked at transit hubs spread around the city, to be taken by commuters after being activated by a smartphone app. The smartphone slots into the scooter's dash to provide sat nav, battery level, and cashless payment. The Scoots have a top speed of about 48km/h and a charge time of eight hours from flat to full.
A spokesperson for Scoots says the Scoots Network will eventually come to Australia.
Perhaps the most popular executive express of recent years has been the folding bicycle manufactured by the British company Brompton. Formerly the preserve of eccentric 50-year-old Brits with beards, the unusual-looking cycle has developed a cult following among commuters.
“We sell more Bromptons than anything else,” says Nick Boyakovsky of Sydney's Cheeky Transport. “And plenty of our Brompton customers wear suits to work. A recent customer was a judge's assistant who frequently caught light planes around NSW. The Brompton made perfect sense because it could be folded away with her luggage.”