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Hovering on the Brink of Disaster?

Will Hammacher Schlemmer’s new levitating scooter solve U.S. public transit problems?

April 11, 2002

Will Hammacher Schlemmer's new levitating scooter solve U.S. public transit problems?

Since 1848, Hammacher Schlemmer has offered products that it says are “the Best, the Only, and the Unexpected” to the public. The store specializes in providing clever technological gadgets that often anticipate consumer needs.

For example, Hammacher Schlemmer claims to be the first to sell the electric razor. It was a concept ideally suited for the time when gentlemen no longer had the luxury of a daily shave at the corner barbershop.

The store also began carrying such American innovations as the pop-up toaster and the microwave oven — both of which became essential parts of every U.S. household.

So what will Hammacher Schlemmer offer in the 21st century? Why, the amazing Levitating Hover Scooter, of course. The gadget is a personal flying saucer that seems to have come straight out of Star Wars or some other sci-fi epic.

But do Americans need such a gadget — especially at a stiff price of $14,995.95? Yes — and maybe sooner than they think.

Put simply, America’s public transit system is in disarray. Amtrak — the government-owned public railway network — is in its death throes. The subsidies that have kept it alive have been targeted by both the Bush Administration and the U.S. Congress.

Amtrak’s auditor, KPMG, doubts the network’s continuing viability. Amtrak’s president, George D. Warrington, has submitted his resignation.

And the Amtrak crisis is only the tip of the iceberg. America’s mass transit network is among the worst in the industrial world. Only half of America’s population has such transportation available to them. Public transit accounts for less than 2% of all passenger miles traveled by land. The funds allocated for public transportation at every level of U.S. government is shrinking.

At the same time, America’s streets and highways are increasingly congested. And that’s where the Levitating Hover Scooter comes in — allowing individuals to soar above transit woes and congestion. A powerful propeller underneath a saucer creates an air cushion underneath it, thus “levitating” the scooter.

Not surprisingly, Hammacher Schlemmer describes the scooter as the future of personal transportation.

But if you don’t want to zoom around on thin air, the company offers other, more traditional transit gadgets — including the four-wheel bike for the entire family, dubbed the “Zero Emissions Machine” (ZEM). At $6,495.95, the ZEM is certainly is a bargain.

In all their transit woes, it seems that America can at least take comfort in the fact that one innovative company is looking to the future.