The wonder of e-bikes and e-scooters

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, January 6th, 2019 - 20 comments
Categories: auckland supercity, Economy, local government, Politics, public transport, Social issues, tech industry, transport, uncategorized - Tags: , , , , ,

Since I got back from scooter laden Singapore in mid-November, I’ve been looking at the Lime scooter experiment in Auckland. I have to say that it has been interesting seeing their use go deeply into the culture of the central Auckland area that I inhabit. Overall, and subject to some regulatory / legislative / tax considerations, it looks to me like e-scooters are here to stay.

Lime e-scooters’ Auckland trial extended until the end of March

Lime e-scooters will be on Auckland pavements for at least another three months.

Auckland Council plans to extend the e-scooter sharing service’s street trading licence, which was set to expire on January 14, until the end of March.

The extension would give the council and Auckland Transport (AT) more time to assess Lime’s trial and decide whether Lime and other similar services would be able to operate in the super city long term – and whether any more safety restrictions would be rolled out.

The trial of the e-scooters was granted in the expectation that other e-scooter companies would put in scooters as well, allowing for a comparative trial. That didn’t happen. Onzo and Wave who were expected to jump in as well did not, presumably so they could look at what to avoid.

I seldom use transport for “fun”, which appears to be the only criteria that out-of-touch economically dimwitted pundit parasites like Mike Hosking and Heather du Plessis-Allan ever seem to apply to transport. That plus their natural inherent stupidity probably why they always diss every mode of transport apart from apparently motorways and cars.

I mostly use transport to commute to and from work.

For the last 15 months when I have been in Auckland, I’ve been mostly using a e-bike to commute. I love using the bike, it just makes life so damn easy for me as I’ll explain later. It looks to me like e-scooters, especially rental ones, offer the same for most people at a much cheaper price.

Looking at the e-scooters they don’t look likely to to be able to help drag my aging and a bit overweight 120kg body and assorted computers up the 85 vertical metres over 3.3km route from work to home each day. In fact they look pretty damn pathetic on any sort of steep grade – as I pass Lime scooters being walked up my least favourite cardio-vascular slope.

But I’ve been talking around various people who have been using both their own e-scooters for a while and renting the Lime scooters since they became available. Plus I see them in use just about everywhere around central Auckland and the inner city suburbs. They are obviously a boon for commuters in those areas, and that is what I see most people using them for during the work day.

Renting e-scooters just gets rid of the tedious long walk. They then substitute some other issues, like finding a scooter when you need one. But essentially the rent on a e-scooter is way less expensive than almost any inner-city parking. Which is a huge plus.

But mostly e-scooters achieve what I have found to be one of the biggest benefits of e-bikes. They give a reliable commute speed that you can’t get in a car around the inner suburbs.

Consider my work-day commute these days. I travel 3.3km each way. The total rise between work and my apartment up on the K-Rd ridge is about 85 metres vertically. It takes me between 10-12 minutes to ride it depending on the lights on the roads and cycleways and at any time of the day or night. I often go to work early or work late depending what I’m working on. But it is absolutely reliable for the commute time.

Now I’ve been driving a car for since I was 15, and that was 44.5 years ago. So I’m a pretty competent driver. That same commute that I can cycle in 10-12 minutes is a complete crap-shoot by car. It takes between 8 and 45 minutes.

It mostly depends on the time of day. In the rush-hours it routinely takes between 15-20 minutes. If I drive to work first thing on sunday morning I can do it in 8 minutes. But if there is a rush hours blockage anywhere on the motorways that backfills the inner city roads, as seems to happen at least once a week, it can take 45 minutes.

That is because cars are a complete waste of road space. They seem to exist to jam up the roads. Like me on my car commute, almost all cars have a single occupant and are bulky. Even stopped at the lights they’d take up at least 21 square metres. That same fat footprint is also why I have to pay for parking when I take the car to work.

Whereas a person on a bike would take up something like 1-1.5 square metres and a scooter less than 1 square metre. In a crowded inner city that translates directly into more people for the same area, both on the road or cycleway and when parking. And I haven’t had to pay for cycle parking.

But the biggest turn off with a car is that it is just plain boring in a car stuck in traffic. I can’t read, txt, program, or do anything much except for listen to waffling morons like Mike Hosking and bad music. It is simply dead time for me done. To do it in my work day is purely done for the benefit of my employer. It is dead wasted time for me..

That explains why over the the last 44 years, since I got a license, I have seldom commuted using a car if I can help it. And when I totalled it up, it looks like this.

  • About 8 years walking to work and university where that was feasible.
  • About 10 years working from home and using the net daily to manage my teams, co-workers and employers.
  • About 4-5 years using public transport.
  • About 2 years using taxis where the cost of parking was higher than the taxi fares.
  • And in the last 15 months when in Auckland, I have used my e-bike.

In other words in aoo of my commuting time, I have commuted with a car less than half of the time. The only reason I have ever commuted with a car is a lack of viable alternatives. Which is a searing indictment of our crap public transport systems in Auckland.

For instance to get to my current work, the fastest public transport takes about 30-40 minutes. I either walk half of the distance with a large toe with problems and wait for bus, or I have to take bus that does almost 8km (rather than 3.3km) and often takes nearly an hour in rush hour. That is a pain because there used to be a good public transport from Ponsonby to over to the university. But it got trashed in one of the route restructures.

Now I’d admit that because of my rather diverse skill sets I have a fair bit of ’employee power’. I definitely use it to my advantage – it allows a selectivity of who I choose to be employed by.

Skilled tech workers for the last three decades have been steadily driving the high value and large jobs sector of the tech export economy. This is important to our economy. The high tech sector became the 3rd largest export industry in 2017. It is also one of the fastest growing export areas with the top 200 tech businesses exceeding $11.1 billion in revenue in the last year. It is a sector that, unlike the commodity industries, has been growing in profitability faster than it is growing in revenues. It also directly employs a hell of a lot of well paid people and indirectly pays for a lot of urban jobs. Like most tech workers, I strongly prefer not to have my time wasted in traffic or by having my skills being splattered by an idiot driver. Watching tech people moving jobs, there is a distinct trend to always move closer to their homes unless there is a hell of a job on offer.

I tend to look for firms that are near to where I live and/or where there are cycleways, walkways, or decent public transport routes that don’t involve jumping buses and long walks. I often eliminate possible employers if I have to drive to work and especially if it is on the motorway. They’d have to have some seriously interesting work before I even consider them.

Which is why public transport wasteland suburbs like Albany and Birkenhead are pretty much off my possible employers list. The indutries cluster for cars. Not for public transport that I can read on. There are no bus-lane to most of South or West Auckland and I so I won’t work there unless there is some seriously interesting work or they aren’t close to the cycleways. But I’ll work in Takapuna for a decent job – the Northern busway makes it palatable..

This is an ever increasing trend amongst the kinds of tech workers I work with. We’re really uninterested in the strange archaic transport views of economic parasites like the advertising selling flacks like Mike Hosking or Heather du Plessis-Allan. They’re just part of the inefficient and rather bloated boring crony capitalist local economy. We want to work – not to waste time in commutes. I can guarantee that we bring far more income, profit, and taxes into NZ and Auckland than unproductive opinionated hacks like media hacks who seem to be only interested in supporting old businesses who advertise with them and not exporters.

But what makes working here in Auckland to be viable (rather than offshore) for this overweight and aged programmer and many other technical geeks is the rapid spread of cycleways and separated bike lanes. Either that or better public transport. Then I don’t have to worry about the ever increasing dangerous stupidity of Auckland drivers and crowded roads. That brain and skill set that my employers pay so highly for is pretty safe on a fast cycleway or a bus. It doesn’t pushed into parked car by drivers overtaking too closely and parked fools opening driver side doors. And I can’t get ramming from behind from some distracted commuter talking to their passenger. Like happened to me in a parking lot called the Harbour bridge once.

I’m hardly alone. So what I see when I ride the new cycleways that have appeared in the last few years around central Auckland is a exponential increase in cyclists. Over the last 15 months, the Newton gully cycleway has gone from only having occasional riders on it to having many on it. I now pass or get pass other cyclists all of the time now.

On that cycleway most of the cyclists I see are e-cyclists. That is understandable. There is a bit of steep grade in Newton Gully and it’d be hard work on an unassisted bike. But when I visit people on the north-western cycleway, there are a lot of unassisted bikes.

Bit the other trend is that the e-cyclists are getting older and it isn’t hard to see why. I literally couldn’t ride the Newton Gully from work to home without a machine assist.

Plus it gives me my daily exercise…. And as much as I hesitate to admit it, riding on safe cycleways with a machine assist is also a hell of a lot of fun. Especially when you’re whizzing down Newton gully on a clear cycleway at 55km/hour on a crisp morning, wet or dry. Of course riding up that rise is a pain. But that puffing at the top gives the old heart and it’s stent a great workout.

With separated footpaths and cycleways plus high density batteries to assist the elderly tech heads like me can keep productively increasing our tech exports and paying people to make me decent coffee and turkish food.

But I’m really uninterested in my high taxes going to pay for the truck damage required for our local roads. Pay for cycleways once and expect them to ever need more than minimal maintenance. That is a cost effective and economic way to use my taxes. Whereas roads are a waste of time while car drivers are subsiding truck maintenance rather than fixing problems.

Of course there are a few things that should be more strongly regulated in our e-vehicle era, and a few strange vagaries of our existing legal structures that need fixing. I need to write another post… 

20 comments on “The wonder of e-bikes and e-scooters”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Lithium Titanate. 10c charge and discharge… Available now.

  2. Kay 2

    There’s some mixed massages out there as to whether or not a valid drivers licence is required to ride e-scooters. Stuff says yes, Herald says no, dig into the LTSA website and no if they’re under 300 watts which the Lime scooters apparently are. The latter are the ultimate authority of course, but people banned from driving anything, or choose not to have a licence really need to this basic fact correctly publicised with everything else. E-bikes are fine unless they have something specifically motorised attached to them.

    I’m not sure about e-scooters in Wellington, there’s not enough room on our roads for buses and bikes to co-mingle very safely already and very few places the footpaths could be divided up for duel use. Do something with traffic free areas in the CBD and that might help. Personally, I haven’t encountered them yet, just heard the horror stories but were they to become more user friendly I’d be tempted in the city and in certain flat suburbs (ok, somewhat limited here but there’s places they could work like Eastern suburbs). It’s closer to the ground for me if I fell off one of those than a bike. I really miss cycling 🙁 I think they could also be of use for people who aren’t quite ready for a mobility scooter but finding it more difficult to walk everywhere and get off the bus routes so more time could be spent out and about and participating in society.

    I’m up in Auckland from time to time, I used to cycle around when I lived there 25 years ago, often down Ponsonby Rd, it was easy then. Plenty of space, felt quite safe, no near misses. I’m terrified as a car passenger going down there now- anywhere around Auckland for that matter- and wouldn’t even consider cycling anywhere. Auckland drivers are homicidal and that’s being nice to them. Separate areas from traffic are definitely needed for non-motorised vehicles. I’d cycle there (if I still could) with that in place, and scooter around.

    • Unicus 2.1

      Absolutely get limes off the footpaths – pedestrians have no defence against these silent bully machines

      If you want to ride one use the road way – and risk your chances with other transport machinery not threaten vulnerable human beings

      That goes for bikes and e- bikes as well – morally entitled idiots barging through pedestrians on two wheels is a menace and becoming more prevalent .

      In the US the footpath is sacrosanct running into a pedestrian is very very expensive for the perpetrator . It should be the same here – but of course that’s as likely as Simon bridges winning an election.

  3. Jenny - How to get there? 3

    My son who lives in the inner city not far from you, thinks the Lime Green Scooters are great. His biggest gripe is their expense, according to him, to get from Newton to the University by Uber, is cheaper than hiring a scooter over the same distance.

    His other gripe is that all the profit goes to a big overseas multinational. In his opinion the council should be supplying this service.

    • soddenleaf 3.1

      buy your own? or better, start a uni stu company that rents a batch of them, reward students for bring them back…. etc.

  4. veutoviper 4

    lprent – off topic but no Open Mike today?

  5. Jim 5

    Totally agree with your thesis
    ifify “expect them to never need more than minimal maintenance”

    I am a 62 yo refugee from Auckland. Shifted ~30 years ago to Raglan to escape the Auckland traffic, after enduring biking from Albany to Auckland Uni for 10+ years, many of which involved lobbying for ferry and Harbour Bridge access. (I biked the “upper harbour” route ~50km a trip.)

    PhD Physics and Maths 1990 involving a LOT of computer fiddling.

    Now work from home looking across the Raglan harbour with a >$100K income (still involves lots of computer work).

    An e-bike is in my future for the regular down-town grocery trip / weekly coffee club meeting 🙂

  6. Observer Tokoroa 6

    A great piece Lprent

    The fact of the matter is that the Car has become the Elephant.

    We really should be thinking of putting them in the Zoo.

  7. James 7

    I disagree- to a point. I also have the choice of where i work and where I live but I have a long commute and car is my only option for the days I go to the office.

    I think it’s a mind set – I listen to music or podcasts and make it a bit of “me” time.

    Living in a lifestyle area – public transport isn’t an option. Even if I did the bus from Albany – I then have to get to another part of Auckland- the time would be considerable.

    So I just accept it and enjoy my time in the car.

    When I’m the city – I use Uber for everything.

  8. WeTheBleeple 8

    I spent about a month in Auckland traffic and vowed to never have a 9-5 job here again.

    e-transport is great. But big corporations moving in to cash in before the locals even get a foot in the door… they can fuck right off. 30c a minute. $18 an hour for that battery toting chunk of alloy? Seems cheap on the surface. But an absolute rort is what it is.

    Bikes that could pay for themselves barely out of the wrapper, and then $$$$$$$ offshore forever. Yay, gee, so enthusiasm.

  9. Ad 9

    in case anyone needed further encouragement to start the new year differently, Aucklands Nelson Street is down to one lane and Quay Street is a nightmare for months.

    And real traffic hadnt even started for 2019.

    Great moment for Aucklanders to give up their car commute.

  10. Blessed are the cyclists, for they shall inherit the earth

  11. David Mac 11

    The business models struggle. Some people like to refer to the crazy money Uber are making The reality is: Uber lose about 12 million a day.

    “No venture has ever raised more capital, grown as fast, operated more globally, reached as lofty a valuation — or lost as much money as Uber.” Forbes.

    They turned a profit last year but this was due to selling off some sectors of the business.

    The margins are all so skinny, nobody is making money and they should be. They need to be. Being an Uber driver should be a handy little earner, not break down to an after overheads wage of $4.35 per hour. The Lime Chargers, collecting scooters through the night, recharging them and placing them before dawn should pay better than being behind the counter at Caltex. It doesn’t, by a long haul.

    Without any subsidies these inexpensive ways to get around the city come at a price. That price is somewhere someone is being paid Bangladesh sweatshop money. The ‘Contractor’ employee model is a soft target for exploitation. It is how it is possible to legally pay someone $4 an hour in New Zealand.

    A possible solution could be the rise of freelancers. Rather than Uber Inc. or Lime Inc. sitting at the top. The guy that collects and charges the scooters, could own them. 100 Auckland Uber Drivers could operate their own app, as we did with taxi Co-ops, the drivers own the business.

    There is one school of thought that feels that the Uber business is merely being shaped to be the Coca Cola of the future’s autonomous vehicle business.

    • Draco T Bastard 11.1

      A possible solution could be the rise of freelancers. Rather than Uber Inc. or Lime Inc. sitting at the top. The guy that collects and charges the scooters, could own them. 100 Auckland Uber Drivers could operate their own app, as we did with taxi Co-ops, the drivers own the business.

      These things really only work when its a government service. Government has the scale that the private sector doesn’t that allows them to provide the service cheaply or even free while still paying good wages.

      For taxis the government owns and runs the app and servers while the drivers own and run the cars.

      • David Mac 11.1.1

        Waiting for a government to make everything fabulous hasn’t worked out very well for me.

        Lime are headquartered in the US. With a shuffle up I think the Auckland electric scooter scene could provide a worthwhile profit to providers.

        I think Aucklanders would support a company that was owned by those that invested a few $k, own 10 scooters and commit to charging up to 10 of the Co-op’s scooters each night. With the neoliberal aspect gutted out of the overheads and the lion share of profit being returned to those that make it happen it stands a much better chance of being a viable opportunity for Kiwis than it currently does.

        • Draco T Bastard 11.1.1.1

          Waiting for a government to make everything fabulous hasn’t worked out very well for me.

          The past isn’t always a good gauge to the future. Particularly if we bothered to look at what went wrong and fix it rather than whinge about it, throw our hands up in the air and declaim that its all too hard.

          I think Aucklanders would support a company that was owned by those that invested a few $k, own 10 scooters and commit to charging up to 10 of the Co-op’s scooters each night.

          /facepalm

          It’s not about supporting a company – it’s about having a reliable service available. And if the company isn’t, as you say, paying enough then we don’t have a reliable service.

          With the neoliberal aspect gutted out of the overheads

          Your description of how it should work is pure neo-liberalism.

          • David Mac 11.1.1.1.1

            I think you systemically offer a contrary view to mine simply because you like to debate.

            The business model thumbnail of mine is almost verbatim Draco.

            A co-op whereby those that make it happen share the spoils. It’s a cornerstone of the Draco Manifesto bro.

            You’re just looking for a fight.

            ps: This ‘facepalm’ innuendo is beneath you. Say what you really mean. eg: “God you’re a stupid fuckwit Dave.”

  12. Sabine 12

    i am living proof that one can live without a car in NZ.

    One of the reasons i always lived central in AKL was my reasoning that what ever i paid more in rent would be easily offset by not having to own and maintain a car.

    Essentially i walked everywhere, and AKL is a good walking town once one gets to know the area, and every now and then use a bus or taxi.

    For everything else there is plane or train or overland bus.
    And it also helps with fitness, and a thing that i miss now that i don’t live in AKL anymore, picking up food for dinners on K-Road.

  13. NZJester 13

    Napier is having problems with its new cycleway with some cyclists still using the footpath and the road in places with one part starting to crumble just months after completion and is bumpy compared to the footpath and road making some users avoid it. A lot of it in other parts of the country was done cheaply and rushed under Nationals funding. I wonder how much of it is actually going to last the long run without needing more investment to fix a lot of it?

    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503462&objectid=12185665

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