Originally created 11/30/02

Meter readers look forward to scooting



The first time Billy Clayton saw one, he was hooked.

"I thought about meter reading the first time I saw it on TV," said Columbia County's Water and Sewer Services director.

Starting in January, Columbia County's meter readers will have a new tool - a Segway Human Transporter. The county is testing one now, and if it saves time on meter reading, more could come, Mr. Clayton said.

"It's actually pretty hard to fall off of," meter foreman Shane Williams said. "But it can be done if you are not careful."

The county paid $7,000 for the e Series Segway - built for industrial applications - and sent someone to New Hampshire to train on it. Now meter readers, who have to wear a bicycle helmet while riding, are getting comfortable on the "chariot without a horse," as Mr. Clayton describes it.

Mr. Clayton said the Segway should fit into the meter-reading process perfectly. Workers are about 35 percent through converting the 28,000 water meters in the county to meters that can be read with the touch of a wand.

The touch-read meters make the job quicker, but workers still must walk between meters and along routes.

"We had thought about golf cars," Mr. Clayton said. "The problem with most of those things is the sliding in and out of them."

The sliding in and out creates wear and tear on the seats. With the Segway, there's no sliding, only gliding, Mr. Clayton said.

"It'll be a whole lot quicker," said meter reader Johnny McGahee, who has had four or five hours of practice on the machine. "It'll be straight on, straight to the meter and touch it, straight to the next one."

Unveiled last November, the Segway Human Transporter was developed by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen and is designed for any pedestrian environment. It has been tested by police in Atlanta and meter readers in Seattle.

The first Segways are available now to the public via Amazon.com. Their price for the i Series human transporter is about $5,000, and deliveries are expected to begin in March.

It's already popular with Columbia County employees.

"Of course, everybody wants to ride it just one time," Mr. Clayton said.

SEGWAY HUMAN TRANSPORTER

(i Series)

TOP SPEED: 12.5 mph

RANGE: 15 miles

TURNING RADIUS: Zero

WEIGHT: 83 lbs

PAYLOAD CAPACITY: 250 lbs

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115, or jbsmith@augustachronicle.com.