Motorcycles are also great, but harder to learn to ride, and less maneuverable in congested urban areas. (Motorcycles typically are standard, so you have to shift gears, whereas most scooters have continuous variable transmission i.e. automatic)
Most new scooters have very high mileage -- 100 MPG is not uncommon, and some are even better. I found a link here to a source of more detailed data: http://www.greenconsumerguide.com/scoot.php
In some cities (like mine, Toronto), scooters park free on city street parking. Even the cheapest vehicle parking costs me about $15 just to get in and out of one client meeting; if I park underground, it quickly rises to $25. There are lots of convenient places to park the scoot. Last summer I estimated that I saved about $300 on parking, which is a pretty good rate of return on the investment, considering I only ride it 6 months of the year.
Newer scooters have low emissions. Those built to European standards are very low, as they only permit 4-stroke engines. A newspaper here reported this startling statistic:
If Americans used scooters for just 35 per cent of their weekly driving, they could, in aggregate, reduce fuel consumption by 53 million litres a day, ICR found, citing U.S. Department of Energy data. They could also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 147.2 million kg a day.
Plus it's fun to scoot, you meet a lot of nice people, and if you want, you can join a scooter group and attend rallies and go on group rides.
This is really barely an instructable, but I wanted to add this perspective to the green contest.
Step 1: Ride Safely
Safety courses teach you how to start and stop safely, even emergency stops and emergency swerving (to avoid mowing down little kids or pets that might suddenly be in your path, for example).
Equally important, you learn how to keep yourself safe from the four-wheeled vehicles around you.
And they'll give you some basic maintenance tips.
The picture of me in the red jacket was before I got a proper scooter jacket. Now I have a jacket with armour panels inside, so if I get clipped on the elbow or take a fall, my joints will still be intact. (The black one in the next step.)
Step 2: Go Shopping
You will need a good helmet -- the sky is the limit on these, but you can get the basic models for about $100, less in US$ ;-)
If you make a living using your head, I strongly suggest you wear a helmet even if the law does not require it. Early on, I added the three-quarter visor. You'd be amazed how much it hurts when a bug flies into your face. This year I plan to add protective sun glasses.
A good jacket is crucial. After I took the safety course, I found out why motorcycle/scooter gear has all those buckles. The belts, etc. are so that the jacket stays in place if you fall and go sliding along the pavement. So the sleeves and belt, etc. do need to be snug to achieve the intended protection. Cool good looks is just an added bonus.
If you can't afford a new jacket, definitely wear the most rugged denim or canvas jacket you own.
The reason I bought a proper jacket: I "dropped the bike" (i.e. fell) when on a motorcycle license course while going quite slowly. I had bruises the size of bread plates on my rear end, and multiple bruises all over the place.
I normally would have the black jacket done up completely, but it was a VERY hot day (see people in shorts), and I was doing a "ride slow" event at a rally for fun.
One great side effect of the shoulder panels: they make your hips look smaller! LOL
In Europe, you can get wonderful gear like the Tucana Urbano jackets shown in the next photo. These do have armor inside, and are waterproof, but look more businesslike. Saving my pennies...
Gloves are also a must. I've seen people wear leather gardening gloves, which are much less expensive than motorcycle gloves (ie. $5 versus $50+), but would certainly do the job. If your hand hits the pavement going fast, you'll be glad it's the glove that got grated, not your skin.
I found the red suede boots on E-Bay for very cheap. Most motorcycle boots are just too ugly, and really intended for highway use (protect your ankles from rocks, etc.). So now I keep my eyes open for deals on any kind of boots -- cowboy, hiking, etc. that will look good.
Step 3: Find a Group
These pictures are all taken from a rally with a Meetup group here in Toronto. That's me all in black on the red scoot. As you can see, some of these scooters are big enough to be motorcycles, but they still have step-through design so technically are scooters.
Group rides are fun, but it's also a way to learn more about riding in your city (i.e. good routes, good places to park the bike, where people found good gear for cheap, etc.)
As far as I can see, most of these groups are pretty informal -- you just show up at the appointed coffee shop or parking lot.
Step 4: A Couple of Last Thoughts
A good guy at the dealer asked me where in the city I live. And then pointed out that I was going to have to climb a fairly steep hill to get home from downtown, regardless of which route I took. This was excellent advice. I can keep up with the traffic at 80 K (about 50 mph) even when going up these long hills.
Plus, a scooter weighs so little that the acceleration will amaze you. You can beat anything on the street except for a bigger bike. So if you don't like the taxi creeping up too close behind you, when the light changes, you're far, far away.
I know lots of people commute by bicycle. I tip my hat to anyone who does that. This wasn't an option for me, however. The scooter makes the drive downtown fun instead of tedious. My clients seem to think it's pretty cool. And it's better for the environment.
So go get yourself a scooter! There are so many models now, all sizes, all price ranges. There's a scoot that's perfect for you, and you'll smile every time you get on.