Vegas scooters are the latest in lazy

Devices for the infirm often being rented by the able-bodied

Published: Monday, June 4 2007 12:28 a.m. MDT

Simon Lezama, a 27-year-old tourist from Odessa, Texas, drives his scooter in Las Vegas. Lezama, a trim and fit-looking restaurant manager from Texas, rented it on day three of his five-day vacation.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — There's lazy, and then there's Las Vegas lazy. Meet the latter.

In increasing numbers, Las Vegas tourists exhausted by the four miles of gluttony laid out before them are getting around on electric "mobility scooters."

Don't think trendy Vespa motorbike. Think updated wheelchair.

Forking over about $40 a day and their pride, perfectly healthy tourists are cruising around Las Vegas casinos in transportation intended for the infirm.

You don't have to take a step. You don't even have to put your drink down.

Pedestrians beware.

"It was all the walking," 27-year-old Simon Lezama said on his red Merits Pioneer 3. Lezama, a trim and fit-looking restaurant manager from Odessa, Texas, rented it on day three of his five-day vacation, "and now I can drink and drive, be responsible and save my feet."

The Las Vegas Strip is long past its easily walkable days. Casinos alone are nearly the size of two football fields. That doesn't count the hotel rooms, shopping malls, spas, convention centers, bars and restaurants.

And that's just inside. For tourists who plan to stroll from one big casino to another, there are crowds, construction sites and long stretches of sun-baked sidewalks between.

A tourist could accidentally get some exercise.

"We're seeing more and more young people just for the fact that the Strip has gotten so big, the hotels are so large," said Marcel Maritz, owner of Active Mobility, a scooter rental company whose inventory also includes wheelchairs, crutches and walkers.

Most of those using the scooters are obese, elderly or disabled. But many are young and seemingly fit.

The number of able-bodied renters has grown in the past few years to represent as much as 5 percent of Maritz's business, he said. The company, which contracts with some casinos, has a fleet of about 300 scooters.

"It makes it a lot easier for people to see everything," he said.

At full throttle the scooters open up to about 5 mph, though crowded sidewalks allow little opportunity for such speeds. They can go anywhere wheelchairs can — elevators, bars, craps tables. They come with a quick operating lesson, an instruction booklet, a horn and a basket. They advertise themselves.

"At first, I figured it was for handicapped people, but then I saw everybody was getting them. I figured I might as well, too," Lezama said.

Las Vegas has other transportation options, although each has its problems. The Strip is regularly clogged with cabs and drive-in tourists. A double-decker bus system, dubbed the Deuce, often gets stuck in the mess. A $650 million monorail with stops at eight casinos has been plagued by poor ridership. Critics complain its placement in the back of the resorts puts it too far off the Strip and out of sight.

Police and casino workers often use bicycles.

The gondolas at the Venetian don't get you very far.

Still, no one is proposing individual electric scooters as a solution to the transportation problem.

Michael Wischoff, bell captain at the Sahara hotel-casino, rolls his eyes when asked about the joy riders. He describes them as reckless.

"They just bust 'em up," he said, adding that he's seen scooters come back with broken axles, dented fiberglass and flattened bumpers.

"When I rent them out to young people you can almost guarantee they're going to come back wrecked," he said.

Some find the notion of using a device intended for disabled people unethical.

"It's the same principle as parking in a handicap spot," Mike Petillo, 64, a disabled tax accountant who recently visited from New York City.

Several hotel bell desk workers — who handle most of the rental requests from tourists — said they try to discourage people who do not appear to need the scooters from renting. But refusing the self-indulgent is not really an option.

"You can't really discriminate against anybody," said Tom Flynn, owner of Universal Mobility. "We don't require a prescription or an explanation of why they need it."

Rider Michelle Bailey, 22, had a simple explanation for why she needed the scooter to get around a recent pool tournament at the Riviera hotel-casino.

"Four-inch heels," she laughed, pointing to her lipstick red pumps.

Bailey, who sold raffle tickets at the tournament, wound around the tables and zipped through a convention space crowded by empty scooters recharging along the walls.

The scooters, also called carts, became so popular at the event they started to clog the tournament floor. Organizers attempted to ease the congestion with a sign reading: "No electric carts in tournament room unless it is apparent you need one."

Such signs are still a rarity, and if 21-year-old Troy Burgess is any indication, the scooters' appeal may be limited.

Aside from calling it "immoral," Burgess, an optician visiting from Detroit, came up with another reason for using your own two feet.

"You probably wouldn't pick up too many chicks on that scooter," he said.

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