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Freedom rider — on a Segway! This guy is a regular Rosa Parks — minus the oppression, humiliation and historical import

The Brooklyn Paper / Michael Lipkin

Every time Jonathan Gleich begins his long commute into Midtown Manhattan from Brighton Beach, he’s blazing a trail for equal rights for that most-discriminated-against segment of the commuting public: Segway riders.

Like a latter day Rosa Parks — though without the racial prejudice, threats of violence, or historical import, of course, but with a form of transportation — Gleich has rushed to court three times to fight what he says are unreasonable summonses issued by the NYPD for his use of the quirky, two-wheeled, self-balancing, electric scooter.

In all, Gleich has received five tickets for operating his device without a registration — though here’s the Catch-22: he gets tickets for not having proper registration because the Department of Motor Vehicles won’t issue him a registration because it does not recognize the Segway as legal.

Hence, Gleich’s daily commute has become his personal Freedom Ride — which explains his seemingly weekly visits to the DMV Court.

Indeed, last week, Gleich came to his latest hearing armed with dozens of legal documents (in a grey attaché case emblazoned with the Segway logo, wouldn’t you know?). The arresting officer testified sullenly: “The road was dry, the sky was clear and I was parked in my squad car. I then noticed the Segway driving in the shoulder of the road.”

Gleich was more spirited in his defense than the officer was in prosecution. He defended himself by presenting a pending state Senate bill that would recognize the scooter. And he also showed off pictures of himself with other, smiling cops on their NYPD-issued Segways.

“Police are allowed to drive Segways,” Gleich said, arguing that to make them legal only for police officer is unfair.

The judge paused enough to give Gleich a momentary hope. Then: “Guilty.”

But rulings be damned! Gleich, who is a self-professed lover of new and often esoteric technology, is just as committed to his Segway as he was when it came out to much media fanfare several years ago.

He realized soon after buying one in 2003 that he had to do more than putter around in his backyard to justify spending over $5,000 on his new “toy.” That’s when he decided to commute on his Segway.

Segway commuter John Gleich sets out every morning (when it’s not raining, of course) from his Mill Basin home en route to Midtown Manhattan. He hits Prospect Park about a half-hour into the commute. Besides riding Segways, Gleich is also waging a one-man Freedom Ride to make Segways legal on city streets.
The Brooklyn Paper / Alex Alvarez

At first, Gleich was thrilled with the device and the uses he found for it. But as he took it to work more often, he began to get harassed, with passersby and bike riders taunting him as he rolled by.

“They would call me fat and lazy,” Gleich said.

Through it all, Gleich has racked up close to 10,000 miles in three and a half years — a number made all the more impressive by the savings he’s enjoying. Segways only use one-cent worth of electricity per mile, meaning that Gleich spends anywhere from eight to 14 times less than if he was driving.

But the tickets — which run $100 — are certainly cutting into his savings. But like any civil rights advocate, he fights on.

He’s certainly a hero as far as the Segway company is concerned.

“[Riders like Gleich] clearly are lawbreakers in the truest sense,” said company spokesman Matt Delida. “But if you look at the history of transportation, there were lots of communities that banned the automobile. These [Segway riders] serve the role of showing the real benefits of this new technology.”

Part of the reason that Gleich has railed so vehemently against what he views as an unfair rule is because he’s not used to being told no. When he found out he was too heavy to ride a Segway, for example, he lost over 200 pounds. He’s applied that same dedication to his repeated court battles.

“I keep losing, but I’ll keep fighting,” said Gleich. “This is just me striking back the only way I can strike back.”

Spoken like the Gandhi of transportation.

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