The fu­ture rides on two wheels

The Southland Times - - Business - Mike O’Don­nell

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 long-dis­tance 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 around $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.

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. ABI­GAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

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