By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Nov. 30 (Yonhap) -- Kim Jin-seok, a 28-year-old office worker, wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to get to his company in northern Seoul on time.
It is not just because of nasty traffic jams or no convenient public transportation available near his home located on the outskirts of the capital. It is because he wants to get to work by riding an electric kick board he recently bought both for his commute and for fun.
"Every morning, it is like going on a trip. It also gives me a chance to take in fresh air and appreciate the views that I hardly recognized before when I used public transportation," Kim said, asking for an alias to be used.
The kick board he bought months ago is a Dual Former 2, equipped with an electricity-driven motor. It can run up to 75 kilometers on a single charge and at a maximum speed of 60 kph.
The product made by a Hong Kong-based company was not available here so he bought it by using an overseas shopping site. It took quite a long time for him to get his hands on the product, but it's a wait he thinks was worth it.
"I travel about 18 km every morning to get to work. Given the place I live, it is somewhat hard to use public transportation, and if I do, there are always transfers. I bought this to save time and money, but it also brings me pleasure on my commute."
Kim is among the growing number of people, mostly young generations, eyeing so-called personal mobility whose popularity, along with related devices, seems to be going upward.
Personal mobility refers to mostly one-person moving devices ranging from electric kick boards to one-wheel scooters and electric bicycles.
The segment received the spotlight when a U.S. company came out with a then innovative two-wheeled self-balancing scooter called the Segway in the early 2000s.
With technology advances and mass production in line with growing demand, personal mobility devices once regarded only for a small group of tech-savvy people with deep pockets are becoming more affordable, coupled with a wider range of options.
Especially in urban areas, such as Seoul, infamous for its chronic traffic congestion that can get worse in rush hours, such personal mobility devices are seen as a possible alternative to save time, reduce emissions and even make it more enjoyable to commute.
According to a report by the Korea Transportation Institute, around 60,000 personal mobility devices were sold in 2016 here, and the sales are expected to increase over 20 percent on-year to some 75,000 this year. It projected that the sales will expand to over 200,000 by 2022.
Behind the explosive growth is the prices that have been cheap significantly, without compromising reliability and safety, which is another key aspect that people consider seriously before buying any of them.
Yang Jin-seok (alias), a 40-year-old living in the western part of Seoul, bought a personal mobility tool recently, thanks to the much lowered prices. His choice was an electric bicycle produced by China's Xiaomi Inc., and he purchased it from overseas.
"Usually electric bicycles have been priced at over 1 million won (US$922) here, but after I heard that the Qicycle of Xiaomi cost just less than half of many other brands, I made the decision to get it," he said.
The Qicycle is an electric bicycle with a so-called pedal assist system (PAS), which means that you have to pedal to get help from its electric motor. With one single charge, it can run over 40 km.
"I didn't buy it for commuting but for exercise. Where I live there are many hills so it was hard to get to the bike paths along the Han River," he said. "Getting back from a ride made me too exhausted, but now I don't worry about it."
The growing popularity does not come without safety-related accidents, many of which are blamed on mishandling or overconfidence.
Woo Hyun-ik (an alias) still vividly remembers the experience he had a few months ago when he had what could have been a fatal accident while riding his electric scooter.
"After riding the scooter, I got more confident in handling it. That was a problem. I didn't see a truck coming when I took out my cellphone," he said in a post on social media. "Fortunately, I got just a few bruises. But I still feel terrible when I think about it."
A more serious problem, however, might remain in regulations that many users criticize for not keeping abreast with the speed at which people ride their electric mobility devices.
Under current law, riding electric devices requires a state-issued license that can be obtained from the age of 16, but most users don't have one.
Another sticking point is that many electric personal mobility tools are not allowed to be used on bike paths that are well established across Seoul. That pushes many users to take public roads where they could face much more risks from fast-moving cars, trucks and buses.
One recent change is that the Seoul government will allow electric bicycles to use bike paths starting in March next year with a precondition that they should be PAS-type ones with their speed and weight not exceeding 25 kph and 30 kilograms.
A similar bill is currently pending in the parliament aimed at allowing electric kick boards to use bike roads, but it remains to be seen when it will take effect given that the permit for electric bicycles took years, observers said.
Yang, who is eager to ride his Qicycle whenever he can, acknowledged that he knows it could be illegal to use his new device on bike paths but doesn't pay it much mind.
His concern is not the regulations. He just wants to make sure that he rides it safely.
"The main reason I bought it is for work," he said. Whenever I go out to ride it, I feel great and have a great time. I hope that all the regulatory issues are hammered out, but I will still ride my Qicycle and enjoy my leisure time."
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