History shows the future rides on two wheels
One of the games I play when I’m in Auckland is seeing most ridiculous places for Lime scooters and Onzo bikes to be parked.
Last week I saw a Lime scooter parked in the middle of a fountain off Karangahape Rd, and an Onzo bike hanging perfectly balanced from a pohutukawa in Parnell.
Both the dockless bike-sharing service and the electric scooter sharing service have come in for a bit of pillorying lately.
California-based Lime launched in New Zealand in October with 900 scooters in Christchurch and Auckland, and plans to expand rapidly. The scooters are deceptively rapid and are capable of almost 30kmh on the flat.
So far there have been a reported 66 claims to ACC for e-scooter injuries including bruises, head knocks and broken teeth.
It’s enough for Auckland mayor Phil Goff to defend a crackdown by Auckland Council on the green machines after councillor Christine Fletcher claimed a near miss. And enough for them to be labelled dangerous toys by officials.
Meanwhile, the readily recognisable yellow and black Onzo bikes have come under fire for being too short, unsuitable for Wellington hills and contributing to rubbish, with their polystyrene helmets blowing away in the capital’s breeze.
Apart from such criticism being remarkably parochial for the 21st century, I can’t help but think that people just don’t understand the bigger picture.
What we’re seeing is nothing less than the unbundling of cars, or at least the thin edge of the unbundling wedge.
To my eyes, it’s history repeating itself.
In 1894, the Times newspaper in Britain predicted that ‘‘in 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure’’.
In what became known as the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894, it became clear that big cities depended on thousands of horses for the transport of both people and goods – horses that produced about 11kg of poo and pee a day.
Karl Benz had invented the horseless carriage 10 years previously. But it was the manure crisis, and the appearance of affordable cars thanks to Henry Ford’s production line, which started the unbundling of the horse and carriage.
Suddenly, people realised they actually didn’t need to have stables, fodder and livery to get around. Personal transport separated from the functional requirements of 450-kilogram equines.
Today, with global warming, urban living, street congestion and rocketing fuel prices, the micro mobility (known as ‘‘mimo’’) offered by dockless bikes and scooters is facilitating the unbundling of cars.
Like the horse owners of
120 years ago, city dwellers are in the process of realising that cars are expensive, bulky, polluting hunks of metal that are overkill for 95 per cent of their personal journeys. And when a longdistance journey is required, there are other options.
As a petrolhead from way back it’s deeply unsettling.
But it’s not just the overkill that’s driving the unbundling. It’s the economics of the business.
Electric scooters cost about $500 and deliver about 10 rides a day. Assuming an average trip cost of $3, the scooter will pay itself off in just over two weeks of gross revenue.
Even allowing $6 a night for charging and having scooters recycled every six months, the economics are compelling. Excluding overheads, after about a month you are in net profit mode.
No wonder that foreign scooter companies like Bird are offering to pay cities to build bike lanes so they can put more scooters on them. Commercially, it’s a nobrainer.
It’s enough of a threat to ridesharing business Uber that it’s bought bike sharing service Jump so it can have its own play in this market.
According to commentary, Uber were suffering a 10 per cent hit in cities where Lime and Bird were popular. But now, in cities where Uber has Jump, gross trips are now 15 per cent up.
Some industry experts, such as the 5by5 Micromobility Podcast, are predicting mimo will catch and overtake Uber on total lifetime rides in the big cities by 2012.
In Seattle right now there are more than 10,000 dockless bikes, used by over 350,000 people who clock up a couple of 1.6 million kilometres a year.
So while the car dealers in the likes of Blenheim and Te Awamutu are unlikely to be too concerned, across the six cities in New Zealand that house 60 per cent of our population, I think things will certainly change.
Currently here in Godzone, only Lime is operating dockless scooter sharing but Onzo has a permit and has been working towards launching.
But that is the thin end of the wedge. There are rumours of other entrants coming into the market, both local and international.
All of which points to more bikes up trees and scooters in fountains, and most likely a lot fewer cars.
City dwellers are realising that cars are expensive, bulky, polluting hunks of metal that are overkill for 95 per cent of their personal journeys.
Mike ‘‘MOD’’ O’Donnell is a professional director and advisor. His Twitter handle is @modsta and he’s long on cars but short on scooters.
California-based Lime brought its scooters to Auckland and Christchurch in October, and plans to expand.