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personal transporters

Riders on Segways.

At this year's Tokyo Motor Show, motorcycle manufacturer Yamaha announced that, in collaboration with Toyota, it will be manufacturing a new series of electrically powered "communication-linked, next- generation vehicles with the aim of building a new mobility society of the future."

One of the first of these vehicles will be the EC-miu. Battery propelled, this is a small trike for use in the city, and is aimed primarily at female buyers. Designed as an urban runabout, the impetus behind the EC-miu is to create a new infrastructure for urban vehicles for the two companies, while building a transportation system, and reducing costs in the process.

This is not the first time Toyota and Yamaha have gotten together. Their relationship goes back to 1967, and they have worked on various similar projects, such as the Personal Mobility Concept, over the years. Nor are they the only ones; Honda has also come up with an electrically propelled personal transporter – or PT – or two of its own, and GM and Segway have been working for years on project PUMA, which is a battery-powered, self-balancing, two-wheeled vehicle that shuttles two people around at speeds up to 35 mph.

Smaller non-automotive companies like eZip, Zap, Razor and, of course, Segway are also churning out PTs like there's no tomorrow and they come in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and configurations. They're cheap to produce, inexpensive to purchase, and about the only limiting factor is the imaginations of the people who design them.

But there is one big roadblock in Canada: they're not legal.

At least, they don't fit into any legal pigeonhole and – depending on where you live, what kind of mood the police are in, and how you conduct yourself – if you ride a PT on city streets or sidewalks, it could land you in court or result in a hefty fine.

In Ontario, for example, the Ministry of Transportation is conducting a pilot project to assess the impact of the Segway (but not other similar devices, apparently), and how it will affect pedestrians and road traffic. The project, which started in 2006 and has been extended until 2013, is ultimately meant to "develop and set appropriate operating requirements and rules of the road for Segway use, and to determine, under controlled circumstances, the appropriate use of the Segway."

As it sits now, you can use one of the devices on "many" roads, trails, sidewalks, and paths throughout Ontario, but it has to be equipped with front and back lights and a bell, and riders under 18 years of age are required to wear a helmet.

The project also seems to be primarily aimed at the disabled, as well as law enforcement personnel and letter carriers, and if you break the rules, you can be fined from $250 to $2,500, depending upon what you did. For a full list of all the rules and regulations applying to this project, go to: mto.gov.on.ca.

In British Columbia, PTs are essentially verboten. They are not "compliant" in the province and are stuck in a kind of legal limbo, while Transport Canada makes up its mind.

"You can use them on some private trails and in warehouses and airports and so on," says Mike Besler, owner of Victoria Segway, "but you can be busted if you ride them around town."

A frustrated Besler says that he has a hard time understanding why retired folks and the disabled can glide around on battery-powered electric carts, but jump on a Segway or anything like it, and you're liable for a $700 fine. "Someone has to step up and say, 'They're okay,' " he adds, "but until then, the Ministry of Transport in Ottawa is holding up the show."

It's not just Canada. A court case in the United Kingdom recently saw a 51-year-old man fined $540 for riding a Segway around Barnsley, in Yorkshire. Although the judge found him guilty of operating a motor vehicle on a footpath, he conceded it was a two-edged sword, and because it was indeed a motor vehicle, "general use on the roads is to be contemplated." Not helping matters was the fact that Jimi Heselden, owner of the Segway company in Britain, died in 2010, after losing control of a Segway and plunging into a river, where he drowned.

On the other hand, you can rent these conveyances everywhere, including San Diego, Berlin, Dublin, Rome – literally all over the world, and it's inevitable that there will be a breakthrough in Canada before long.

And not for just the Segway. Fun and hip though it is, a new model starts at around $8,000 and used ones, if you can find them, are priced in the $5,000 range. The Zappy 3, though less sophisticated, is almost as versatile, and starts at just $800 (U.S.).

globedrive@globeandmail.com