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A Disneyland Ride for Workers Only

Times Staff Writer

Tourists can’t ride one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland. It’s for employees only.

But plenty of visitors are getting their first close look at the Segway, a self-balancing electric scooter touted as an engineering marvel and as the machine that will revolutionize human transport.

The battery-operated Segway, which looks more like a manual lawnmower than a scooter, is equipped with five gyroscopes and senses body movements so subtle that the rider practically has to only think about moving to make it go forward or backward or come to a halt.

Disney is one of several companies around the country to buy or use the Segways on a trial basis.

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Park executives ride them from their offices to Downtown Disney, California Adventure and Disneyland -- though they follow a designated path, because the scooter’s futuristic design clashes with the themes in Frontierland and Adventureland. And Disneyland greeters, who hand out park maps and answer questions, are seen whizzing around Tomorrowland, where the scooters appear in the show inside the Innoventions attraction.

“I saw a whole show on that,” said Ruth Fausett of San Diego as she watched greeter Luther Schmidt maneuver his Segway. “I wouldn’t mind having one.”

Until recently, Segways were available only to companies and not for individual sale. But last month, Segway launched its partnership with Amazon.com, and the $4,950 scooter quickly made its way onto Christmas gift lists for the tech-savvy or people who have everything.

They can be bought only online through Amazon and won’t be shipped until March.

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“The novelty factor is incredible,” said Schmidt, one of 50 Disneyland employees trained on the Segway.

“A lot of people have a lot of questions. They’re surprised it works. They want to know how fast it goes, how much it costs, where they can get one.”

The Segway travels up to about 12.5 mph -- three times normal walking speed -- with a battery life of 11 to 15 miles, depending on the terrain and number of stops and starts.

Operating the Segway, which feels a bit like standing on a fast-moving walkway, is easier than riding a bike or skateboard, Schmidt said.

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“T” Irby, Disneyland’s senior vice president of resort support, attractions, operations and entertainment, said one of the challenges was trying to figure out how and where to use Segway.

“All the execs that have seen me operating on it, now they want one,” Irby said. “I love it. It’s the best thing for me. I keep mine parked in my office. I cruise right through the park.”

When he’s done, he rides it into his building, up the elevator and into his office, where it can be plugged into a standard outlet for charging.

Irby said Disney is “rapidly approaching the decision to buy” and has suggested some improvements to Segway designers, including the addition of a horn and light.

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The hike into the park can be a hassle, Irby said, but with his Segway, he is more likely to go check on problems. And he never has to worry about parking.

Several cities, including Chicago and Seattle, have bought Segways for meter reading and parking enforcement, said Segway spokeswoman Carla Vallone. And the U.S. Postal Service is testing Segways in six cities.

So far, 33 states, including California, have passed laws allowing the use of Segways on sidewalks, and more states are considering legislation.


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