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Reinventing the Wheels

The new hipster-mobile: souped-up police scooters.

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The NYPD has been using Cushman scooters—those slow-moving three-wheelers intended to get traffic cops through the tight squeezes a patrol car can’t manage—since the mid-seventies. But now they’re becoming the vehicle of choice among the post-skateboard set, who purchase the scooters at city auctions at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where they go for as little as $100 and seldom for more than $900, depending on the transmission. Back when he was a city councilman, Anthony Weiner (now a congressman) decried the Police Department’s continued purchase of the vehicles, since 19 percent of the fleet was disabled at any given time: “They have a transmission meant to go 20 to 30 miles an hour,” says Weiner. “Cops were pushing them to 40, and they were breaking down.” But pushing the scooters to their limit is precisely what their new owners are doing as well.

Gregory Heller, a political operative who works for State Senate minority leader David Paterson and lives on the Lower East Side, owns four Cushmans, two of which he’s used for spare parts. His main project, a Cushman with a $3,000 thousand-watt sound system and graffiti styling that he modified with buddy Marty Rynearson, was sponsored by local scooter shop Brooklynbretta and is nicknamed Sonic Vroom.

Every Cushman that Heller has bought has required about $500 of work to get running properly. He’d like to do a yellow-cab-themed Cushman, and he plans to turn this one into a Mister Softee–style commercial coffee-vending scooter. Heller praises the ease with which he can park: “You can park even if there’s only six to ten inches of space.” Though you officially need a motorcycle license to do so.

Baruch Herzfeld, another Lower East Sider, removed the “governor” (which keeps the vehicle’s speed below 45 miles per hour) of this Cushman, one of four he owns, enabling it to achieve speeds of as much as 70 miles per hour. One advantage of the scooter that Herzfeld relies on, he says, is a lack of parking citations, since police “don’t know how to write up the ticket”—and are perhaps reluctant to ticket one of their own.


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