Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is trying to give its employees more curb appeal by equipping them with Segway Human Transporters to move traffic more smoothly at Terminal 4.
Ten of the airport's 39 land side operations assistants have been trained to use Segways to patrol the outdoor curb sides at the lower level of the terminal, where incoming passengers reclaim baggage and meet buses, taxis or friends and family members picking them up.
So far the experiment in enhanced mobility has been successful, said airport spokeswoman Lexie Van Haren.
“Our operations assistants walk up and down the curbs eight to ten hours a day to enforce rules and safety regulations such as no parking on the curbs,” she said. Using the Segways “they can get up and down the curbs quicker, and because they are riding up on a platform, they can see over people's heads more easily.”
The Segway is an electric-powered two-wheel scooter developed by inventor Dean Kamen and and manufactured by Segway LLC of Bedford, N.H. Gyroscopes keep the occupant balanced on the machine, and the operator goes forward simply by leaning forward and backward by leaning back. They are programmed to go 6 to 8 miles per hour and are powered by rechargeable battery packs that last eight to 12 miles on one charge.
The device is aimed at users who have to be on their feet |for long periods such as utility meter readers, Postal Service workers and campus security police. Van Haren said the Segway has made curb patrols at the airport less demanding physically. “That is why management looked into it,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we were taking care of our employees.”
The Phoenix Aviation Department purchased four Segways at a cost of $5,500 each and began operating them in May. So far they have been deployed only on the lower level at Terminal 4 because it has the longest open curb at the airport. Van Haren said it's uncertain if the Segways will be expanded to other areas where the curb sides are more congested. “It has worked well where we have them, but before we expand, we would want to make sure it works in other situations,” she said.
So far there haven't been significant problems with collisions between passengers and the Segway operators at the lower level in Terminal 4. In part, that's because the operations assistants are given extensive training before they start using them on the job, she said. “One of the nice things about the Segway is it can turn in place,” she said. “The movements are very similar to those of a human.”
They also have proven to be conversation starters between passengers and airport personnel, she said — “an opportunity to interact with the public in a positive manner.”
Other local employers that have experimented with Segways are the U.S. Postal Service and Salt River Project, but neither is operating them now. The Postal Service operated the machines on walking routes in Chandler in 2002 as part of a nationwide trial of 40 Segways. Postal Service officials called them “promising“ at the time, but they are no longer used, said spokesman Alan Wald. He did not know if there are any future plans to revive them.
The post office ran into some operational issues including limit battery life and the problem of transporting the 70-pound machines to the carrier routes. Also some residents complained the devices are a hazard to pedestrians. SRP meter readers tested Segways last year and found they increased productivity, said SRP spokesman Scott Harelson. But the utility decided to discontinue them because of the possibility of future restrictions that cities may place on the machines, he said.
“We felt overall they were safe, but at the same time with all of the studies taking place and the fact the units are new, we believe it's better to wait and let these things settle out,” he said.