WASHINGTON – His eyes gleamed as he walked into the room.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick — who claims to be the first owner in both Maryland and Congress of Toyota’s hybrid electric car, the Prius — looked like he had met the next addition to his alternative-fuel fleet in a cavernous Senate hearing room.
Bartlett, the chairman of the Energy Subcommittee of the House Science Committee, had come to get a first look at the Segway Human Transporter scooter with about 20 other lawmakers, staffers and Commerce Department officials.
He was the quickest learner of about 15 who ventured onto the scooter.
“It’s easier than learning to ride a bike,” the 75-year-old Bartlett said of the two-wheeled scooter. “It’s effortless . . . for those who have walking problems.”
Bartlett walked right up to the single-axle, 5-foot-high device. Inventor Dean Kamen held the handlebar steady as Bartlett stepped on and grasped the motorcycle-style grips in both hands. The over-sized wheels did not move as Kamen explained that to go forward Bartlett only had to lean forward.
While most lurched forward and backward, going just a few feet in either direction, Bartlett got the machine going at a steady clip, and then accelerated as he began a tour of the room’s perimeter.
He got going so fast that the crowd, half of whom appeared to be in their 20s, turned to watch him. “He’s cookin’,” said one, as Bartlett seemed close to achieving the scooter’s 20 mph top speed in the Russell Senate Caucus Room.
At that point, Kamen stopped Bartlett from running into a podium by reaching out and grabbing the congressman’s arm. Bartlett then bravely rocked back and forth on the device while chatting with its inventor.
After another spin around the room, Bartlett preferred to gaze admiringly at the scooter rather than answer a reporter’s questions.
He could not speculate how the Segway might figure into future Energy Committee initiatives or which fleet buyers in Maryland — or anywhere — might buy the high-tech, electric scooter with its 10 on-board computers and gyroscopes.
Bartlett did, however, predict the product would be very popular for those who could afford it. The manufacturer says it expects to be able to bring the price for individual Segways down to about $3,000 in a year, but for now the scooters are selling for $8,000 to $10,000, if sold as part of a fleet.