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Novel alternative transports get the spotlight

A heavily trafficked area of last month's Los Angeles Auto Show, one of the largest such events in the world, featured precisely zero cars.

A heavily trafficked area of last month's Los Angeles Auto Show, one of the largest such events in the world, featured precisely zero cars.

Spotlighted instead in the new Go pavilion were so-called personal-mobility products to help the adventurous deal with an urban commute. Also known as "last-mile" solutions because they're often used to bridge the gap between a public-transit station and home or work, they include electric scooters, unicycles, hoverboards, and other oddball people movers.

The devices are being developed by start-ups and big automakers alike.

Among the devices on display was Honda's Uni-Cub, which puts a saddle on top of a balance-controlled wheel "for people who have trouble walking long distances." Standing a little over knee-high, it's got the look of a cute little robot, or perhaps the bottom of a toilet.

Ford showed off its Carr-E, a rolling platform disk that resembles a Roomba vacuum cleaner, though slightly larger. It's meant to carry luggage or heavy groceries or a standing human being.

The devices, many of them not yet available, might find their market niches but probably won't be solving any major transport problems or be used for regular commutes.

That's why the Go section was filled mostly with more mundane but readily usable products like electric scooters and foldable bicycles, stuff people can carry on the train or the bus.

Urban planners and personal-mobility marketers talk a lot about last-mile travel - getting from the subway or the bus to your place of work, or back home at the end of the day.

So Go exhibitors were pushing products like the Urb-E, a foldable electric scooter. It weighs 35 pounds, can go about 15 miles per hour and travel 20 miles between charges, carrying a single passenger in a sitting position.

The company's cofounders - a graduate of ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and a former Porsche executive - have sold about 2,000 of the scooters since starting a year ago. They cost $1,499 to $1,699, depending on options like a shopping basket, trailer, or cellphone holder.

"We want this to replace the golf cart," Evan Saunders, the company's head of sales and marketing, said during AutoMobility LA, the four-day press and trade event that preceded the auto show.

"Our customers are people who live downtown and want to leave the car behind, or people who live close to public transport but don't want to walk to it," he said.

Nearby, Brad Ducorsky was showing off a motorized scooter that moves at 18.5 mph and, depending on the rider's weight and how fast it is ridden, covers a range of 13 to 21 miles.

Called the Uscooter, it weighs 23.5 pounds. You can fold it and carry it, or, more likely, pull it along like a wheeled suitcase. Cost: $999.

Next to Ducorsky's booth was Phil LaBonty on his Cycleboard, an electric three-wheel scooter with a platform that looks like a short, wide skateboard. Cost: $1,299.

LaBonty claims high speed and distance: "At 25 miles range and 25 mph, you can get somewhere," he said. Plus, it has cruise control.

Despite its 44 pounds, "it's a functional commuting," he said. "You can pull it like a suitcase. Women can drive this in various kinds of shoes and clothes and not feel like they're going to fall."