This is a guest post from Steph Robinson a full time mum, part time worker in Auckland City Centre fringe.

I love my car but there must be a better way…

Goodbye long, long, long school holidays. I’m not bitter about our school having what seems to be an extra week off over other schools. But school – my kids really (yes really) need you back in their lives, for the sake of sanity for all mums, dads and other blessed caregivers.

Firstly, I want to commend my car for getting me through the early child life stages and the summer holidays. The ability to move faster and longer than walking distance at no notice, just marvel at the convenience and laziness of it all. It packs up humans and many, many possessions that I could ever want or need in one space. No physical muscles required (apart from lifting things and small people and a heavy right foot), almost endless audio entertainment along with snacks and insulated beverages to go, go, go.

With all this holidaying and less people on the road I seem to have temporary amnesia as to how busy our roads are. It all hits me like a bang! 22 minutes from Waterview to Nelson Street on the helpful traffic information board. That’s after a slower time getting to the motorway entry from my suburb of Glen Eden, then joining the crawling 1 person in vehicle queue lane on the on-ramp. We’ve all been there and some reading this still maybe there. It’s ok if you can handle it but – there must be another way and I’m in pursuit to find it.

PETROL FREE ALTERNATIVES?

Let’s start with the take-off of electric bikes and those retro foot powered ones. Wow, I like it – just watch them speed past the motorway queues. Actually, you could be on a kids scooter and still moving faster than cars at peak time. My husband tells me of the great satisfaction it gives him as he zooms through alongside the Western Motorway on his non-electric bike. It’s great for him but the distance and confidence on the road with these things is just not feasible for me. I’m also not sure about lumbering these things onto the train and finding space during those busy times.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT?

It’s great! When it works as it should and bus/train timetable’s marry up like a horse and carriage I like it. But let’s face it when you’re committed to be at work for a certain time and for school pick up, well it’s a bit of a tight time gamble and leaves me not quite working my required hours. The school drop off and pickup times mean that I travel just outside of peak hours, so buses and trains are just not that frequent. The unforeseen cancellations also happen which lingers in the back of the mind only to breathe a sigh of relief when the actual train you catch will be arriving on time according to the digital real time display units.

Having said that I’m really up for embracing it and using it as much as I can, when I get the chance.  While working during the holiday period and having Tim to look after the kids – the chance to just walk catch the train, grab a coffee with no school run to worry about was a luxury to me. As I only work 5 hours a day I can go and come back at my leisure and miss those busy times.

ELECTRIC SCOOTER?

Now it’s getting a bit interesting for me. It’s something I’ve only just started considering with sight of Lime Scooters and travellers with their own e-versions around. Is this just grown-ups trying to be the cool kid again (if they were before) or is there something I’m missing? Well I’m now slowly realising I am missing something. It’s what’s known as a good first and last kilometre option. Commuters who want to cut out the hassle and boredom of walking to and from the station can have the fun on mini wheels. So if I can join this small wheel gang, combine it with the train travel and zip along the footpaths to my destination, it makes the option of trains come alive once again. To be honest I’ve not yet seen a mum do this. Please reader let me know if you do or know of anyone with this travelling habit. If you can make it work then it’s a great option.
And the downsides? Well I’ve discovered with all good electronically minded things there’s a bit of a price tag. That is if you want something well-built and a joy to ride. I’ve been doing my own research (thank you google) and have narrowed down some good lightweight-ish and not too much feel the bumpy path options. I’ve then gone about a North Shore tour of bike shops that stock the brands I’m interested in. So off I go, (wobbling to start with) around their car parks to try and work out the one I’m most comfortable with. Great fun! But I’m not sure I can justify the $2k for the one I’d be happy with. I’m also wary of weight and the clunkiness of folding them down for trains. So what else?

Turns out I’m keen to try something that actually requires mobility from me. So my current thought is a decent Micro kick scooter. The build quality is the same but take out that heavy battery and motor and you have an adults version of what kids enjoy riding for less than a quarter of the price. So it’s time to figure out if I can do this without breaking out too much of a sweat. Maybe walk the uphill part, enjoy the freewheeling downhills and casually punt along the flat.
So there you have it. I will update on my progress and in the meantime I’d love to hear from you commuting parents of young children. What are your options? If you are a car driver, what would make you leave the vehicle behind? I’m keen to leave the clogged motorway party – what about you?

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52 comments

  1. My wife bought a Mi Scooter, she would never ride a bike but she is OK with a scooter. She doesn’t use it every day but sometimes takes it into the CBD to go between two offices for meetings (saves her 10-20 minutes walk and avoids a busfare).

  2. Steph I hear you. I commute by pt, and drive across town or to the beach when required. Get the trains and buses more frequent and more reliable please. The stress of one not turning up when there are kids to collect is nightmarish. I balk at cost and practicality of a scooter but I am getting a new pedal bike tomorrow so I can be where I need to be when I said I would. 🙂

    1. Hey Alex, great you’re getting a bike and hope you enjoy the freedom on two wheels. Let us know how it’s going. I ended up buying a decent kickboard scooter from Micro and loving it. The cost is cheaper than an electric, lighter, and tucks in nicely under the train seats. Im finding the trains pretty reliable so far but need to figure out a back up plan in case I don’t make it to school.

  3. I haven’t looked into it too hard, but what’s wrong with the ~$700 Mi electric scooters?

    I’ve tried a lime once, and if PT was practical for me, I’d definitely look at it for last mile.

    1. Hey Michael, I’ve loved having a go at a few electric scooters and they are great! And you are right in price a bit cheaper with quite a few models around. What I’ve found is if you are using everyday you really want one that’s going to last. It needs a decent battery and build and right for your needs. What I’m enjoying with mine is that it’s light, easy to fold up, kick down and it’s giving me some exercise – which I need! Don’t give up looking at how you can make it work for you. S

  4. Yep – we have one of the Mum’s at our school do this at Ellerslie and Britomart train stations. She does about 500ms at each end and uses a nice wide scooter with decent sized tires (not electric). Also does school drop-off with it, so obviously works a treat for her. Just dons a rain jacket occasionally in winter and always looks happy to be scooting around!

  5. Electric bikes are the answer. You are allowed a 250w motor but nobody is ever going to check so I would go bigger. Alliexpress has kits mid mounted for 250w, 350w, 500w and 1000w to make any old bike electric. Maybe if you go too big and start zipping past the peloton then someone might complain and a kilowatt might cause a bit of heat, but if it were me I would be hot-rodding a bike and charging it up on the bosses dollar.

    1. I bought an electric bike two years ago. I have now ridden nearly 5,000km. Made easier by having great local cycle tracks (ironically built as part of a local expressway project). I now meet others at the local supermarket doing their shopping on their electric bikes. In any area that is windy and/or hilly they are great.

      1. Paul C. After experiencing my first few hills, I did think why did I not go electric. While I’m still getting used to it I walk up the hard parts and enjoy the downhill. Here’s to more cycleways for you awesome bike folk. Balancing shopping on a bike would be a challenge for me with the amount I buy!

        1. Bike or scooter mobility makes it a lot easy to build in micro-shops that fill in the gaps between the big grocery trips, even if it’s just a faster roll from the train to the supermarket (careful crossing West Coast Road though!) and then homeward.

          I commute by ebike so can take care of most of our midweek needs with saddlebags or backpack, then the car just comes out on the weekends when we’re both heading out for a bigger shop and usually doing other stuff at the same time.

          Enjoy the scoot and here’s to more cycleways and other fixes locally for you and all of us – Glen Eden isn’t far away from being a great place to walk/bike/scoot, with a bit of imagination and courage from the right people.

        2. I always find this odd. Are there actually people out there who do all of their shopping in one go and don’t pick up fresh stuff through the week? No wonder New Zealand has a bowel cancer problem if this is true. You’d be out of fresh vegetables 3 days in!

          1. Fresh veg is one of the things I generally buy midweek – easy enough to fill one saddlebag with a nice big cabbage (some of the ones out our way are huge), and the other one with spuds, some carrots, maybe a broccoli or some red onions if we’re out. It’s also hard to find our preferred bread on the weekend, so if I see a fresh loaf into the saddlebag it goes.

            The big weekend shop tends to be frozen items, non-perishables like cans etc or bulky stuff that just can’t be securely strapped to the bike no way no how.

    2. Sounds like voltage and speed are the way to go for you but take care out there. I think there’s a lot more people have the same in mind. Still better than petrol fumes and traffic.

  6. New Zealand is too hilly, manual scooter is counter intuitive as it will be dangerously fast when going downhill and very tiring when going up hill.

    You should also have a look at MI shop in Sylvia park or any PB tech shop, the e-scooter they are selling only $699 and it is almost as good as the 2k alternative.

    1. NZ is a pretty big country to be calling hilly. Christchurch, Palmerston North, Hastings, Hamilton, and most of Napier are largely flat, Auckland also has plenty of flat or close to flat areas.

      1. heck if its for getting around the Wellington CBD thats also flat. Courtenay Pl is easily within scooting distance of the trains

        1. I suggest that Wellington is flatter than most large NZ cities based on the number of residences accessible without a major incline. From Lyall Bay all the way to Eastbourne is flat. To Upper Hutt there is only a gradual incline. Granted there are steep hills but the near flat area is significant.

  7. Interesting to see how comfortable some daily commuters are with the scooter at each end of the train trip, I initially saw them as a gimmick only. I am aware of the limitations the bike presents by its size until AT add racks to buses and reinstate the Guards van to trains… imagine the scramble. The advantage of the bike is that it is likely to be ridden greater distances than the scooter, possibly overtaking the train but what do you do with it at the office?
    In Copenhagen there is a square about an acre in size outside the central rail station and through the day it’s full of bikes, a real jumble of bikes. After evening rush hour there are just a few left, it appears no one cares about getting their own bike, if you leave a bike there it is understood it just became community property. Occasionally there is a sorting out and some maintenance applied. It works.
    Here in Auckland too many people insist on having the most expensive of whatever they buy, over there the bikes looked pretty basic to me removing the obsession of ownership safe in the knowledge it would turn up again soon.

    1. Hi Robert, Yes, it is more comfortable than the bike. No need for extra clothes and it fits nicely under the train seat so I feel like I’m not using up lots of space. In the office I fold up the scooter behind me next to a partition wall but it could also tuck under the desk, and doesn’t require charging. The scooter works for me as I don’t need to go too far. I know the place you mean in Amsterdam – the bike park – it looks chaotic but it works and amazing to see so many people on bikes. Come on Auckland we can do better!

      1. Yes scooters seem much more practical on PT. They’re also much more practical if you don’t have bike storage near where you work. Or, as was the case for me, no way to store a bike at my apartment.

        On the other hand you do not need extra clothes on a bicycle either, unless you’re going at least a dozen of kilometres. I was under the impression that most cyclists in Amsterdam just wear their usual clothes.

      2. If you look at commuters in bike riding cities Copenhagen, amsterdam, Bremen, Hamburg they don’t wear bike riding clothes, they just wear normal clothes, it helps that all those cities are flat. They also all ride commuter bikes.

  8. My office is pretty much and electric scooter park these days, must be at least 7 parked next to each other near a desk with them all being charged!!

    I’ve used Lime quite frequently, even had the misfortune of getting the front wheel lockup down the Cycle lane of Franklin Road, luckily just some grazes. I usually commute via Bus, or walk but I’ve just bought a bike as the Franklin Road cycle way then across Vic Park is very practical as I dont have much road riding to do and it will save me $20 a week.

    Car is strictly for footy training and beaches/hikes at weekends, essential for now but off peak…will upgrade to Hybrid then EV once its cheaper as Im a car cheapstake and always have been.

    Great to hear your story and how you are using different methods!!!

    1. Thanks Joe, great to hear the e scooter is being embraced. Wonder what the employer thinks of those bigger electric bills? I also see Lime is back on the scene, sorry to hear about your experience of them but it sounds like you’ve now got the ideal commute.

      1. If you assume they’re Mi scooters, and a 20 cents per kWh commercial power rate, at absolute worst case scenario it’d be an extra $15 a month in power

        That’s if all seven scooters were being charged up from dead flat to 100 percent, five days a week. It might more realistically be $10 a month or less.

        It’s probably saving the company more in employee time (and wellness) every week than it is costing them in power all year!

  9. Arrived in NZ in the mid 1980s with my wife (a NZ-er) and one child. Deliberately located ourselves to be able to manage without a car (suburban Wellington – Ngaio – on the Johnsonville Line). Stretched ourselves to the max to buy a small house in a good street (spent the next 25 years building onto it), second-hand furniture, low transport costs, no car, no frills, low bills. Two more children soon arrived and we did it all walkably, pushing prams, prams along the footpath, sometimes two prams at once push-pull style, uphill and downhill, prams onto train and off again without baby even waking, front-packs, back-packs, bicycle kiddie-seats, trailers, we tried it all. Once each child could walk we outfitted them with wet-weather gear and gumboots suitable for Wellington’s inclemency. The walk to primary school (700m) was a contest to see who could splash through the most puddles – fun and games not misery. Walked to supermarket (1Km) and used to pack groceries around kids in pram (“Oi – no eating the biscuits till we get home!”). Only ever had one of us in paid employment – one moderate income (both did stints as home-maker), managed to get by and never felt poor. No TV – better off without it, less exposure to envy-marketing, avoided addiction to consumer durables. Spent lots of time reading in the Ngaio library (600m). Intermediate school (Raroa) meant kids learning to use the train and travelling with their peers (station 500m). High-school the same. Great for early independence. Only got a car once the oldest was at High School, when pressure came on to ride-share with other families. Otherwise we minimized our usage of the space-wasting thing. Holidays were usually by train or ferry/train then rental car. Or plane once we could afford to start going back to visit family in the old country. Got frowned on from time to time for being ‘different’, ‘stubborn’, ‘masochistic’ etc. Ha ha!. Sure, we couldn’t spontaneously do some of the things that car-dependent families could do. We just did different things instead. This worked for us. In fact it mostly worked well for us. Yes, there were annoying times when NZ’s half-baked public transport let us down and stranded us in the rain or destroyed trip-plans and we would curse the useless cretins in charge, but we managed. It worked for the children. Helped their resilience. Now all in their 30’s and long flown the nest, one has a medical condition which prevents her from driving, but she’s better-placed than many to cope with that. We still walk. We still cycle. We still use PT. Have yet to try scootering. No one can convince us that society needs to be so car-dependent.

    I would admit that we had to jump through certain hoops to make this choice possible, but that is because we were doing it in a society which is un-geared to facilitating this. How much easier it would be if NZ society was more accommodating of non-car alternatives. Progress may be happening but to date it has been glacially slow. If a critical mass of others also made this choice and forced the provision of better/more-comprehensive facilities then change might just avalanche. Other countries are showing the way. Just too many dinosaurs in NZ holding things back, some old, some not-so-old. All myopic. (Joyce. Brownlee. Bridges, etc. . . .)

    1. welcome to my world, I havent been car free nearly as long as you (2011) but I get by with walking, ten speed, pt, occasional uber. Very frustrated by the cost to society of accomodating cars in a society that frowns upon not driving everywhere.

    2. What a fantastic post Dave, so inspiring to hear your story and well done for persevering through the challenges of being car free. There’s still a lot of work to here but there is (slow) progress and we need more people like you to challenge the mindset of car dependency.

    3. Yeah na, I have three kids, we couldn’t live without our cars, they all do different activities which require driving to get to them, plus we live semi rural. We do one big weekly grocery shop, couldn’t fit all that into a pram.

      1. Yeah, we couldn’t have done it if we lived semi-rurally either, so we chose not to do this. Didn’t like the concept of needing a car to get away from the traffic!
        Mind you, where we live a 10-min walk takes you into regenerating native bush (the Ngaio Gorge) and 30 minutes gets you high onto the open hill overlooking the city, so the rural playground is not far away. When we first arrived I admit to being blown away that such a lovely environment existed a mere 10 minutes’ PT journey from the centre of the capital city! Where else in the world would you find that?
        Kid’s sports could be a bit of a challenge, but we were helped by having only one of our children seriously into it. Most of the venues were accessible by PT however, and we often found we were not the only ones using the bus or train for this purpose.

  10. Hi to all you scooter lovers, good on you! I am a cyclist but have no problem sharing the bike lane. However please pay attention to what you wear. I was in Remuera Rd when I noticed a lady on a scooter wearing black clothing and nice red stiletto high heels. She was whizzing in and out of traffic, an accident waiting to happen. And when it does she will topple off her nice red high heels.
    Please wear bright clothing and shoes you can dismount in. And a helmet would be good. I have had two major concussions on my bike, they are not fun and have affected my memory. So it would be preferable to avoid that.

    1. Wise words Dave! I do indeed wear the right attire for it – though I have on occasion regretted wearing jeans – too overheated. Helmet is definitely a must, my kids bought me one for my birthday (my choice) 🙂

  11. Hi Steph and everyone concerned enough about the state of our city to follow this forum. The reason we started Big Street Bikers – electric bike business was from your exact frustration and the simple thought that there has to be a better way. Key barriers and answers we see to mass social change:
    1. Safety – practice defensive riding, ride the leafy suburban streets and follow the safety in numbers rule.
    2. Affordability – we offer ride to own subscription pricing from $30/ week to ride electric- cheaper than the bus and better for your booty.
    3. Desirable – many organisations like ourselves are working hard to drive behaviour and cultural change that shifts the perception of cycling from lyric and sport to freedom of expression, daily commute and community connections. Join in with any of the events like the biker raves and you will be sure to have a blast.

    Drop me a line if you want to try your commute on an ebike for a week and we can get you rolling on two wheels rather than four towards a happier, healthier more sustainable lifestyle. [email protected]

  12. I got myself an E kick scooter almost 2 years ago to cut my 40 minute bus commute to 15 minutes and have now done 2300 km on it.
    And now finding myself riding it longer distance.

  13. Hi Steph, thanks for the great post!

    I don’t think this is what you’re after, but maybe for some reader it will be. I bought a double child trailer for my bike at the same time I bought the bike. My oldest was already cycling independently, but he could just fit in it. It meant I could take the little one with me to pick the older one up, and either or both boys could sit in the trailer, bike in the boot if necessary. When the younger boy started scootering aged, um, 2? 3? and then cycling on about his 4th birthday, I could set out with him somewhere on scooter or bike and he could give up whenever he wanted. It was so much better than without the trailer… what do you do when a wee child is too tired to continue and you have two bikes with you?

    Now it’s been pulled apart and turned into a flat bottomed cargo trailer, and my husband and I share it. He cycles to work, and on those days when he has to take equipment in, he uses the trailer. I use it for all sorts of things.

    A trailer with an easy way to lock up means you can also leave it somewhere and cycle on alone if that suits.

  14. For a few years I tried bus, tried train, tried bike. Then gave up. Back to driving to work. Faster, cheaper, more reliable. I take the e-bike out every once and a while when the weather is nice. The network is still too incomplete and drivers are too crazy.

    1. Hey Ari, interesting how driving is cheaper, faster and more reliable than both train and cycling as I would have thought that the only thing driving might come out better on is being faster than cycling? Do you have subsidised parking at work and not have to deal with the woes of SH1 or flexible work times? 🙂

      1. I think he means driving comes out as more survivable. If you dig in that safer city streets report in the latest post, you’ll find you’re maybe 10 to 100 times more likely to die underway on a bicycle.

    2. You are correct Joe. I live in the far south and work in the city centre. I find free parking around the place and travel outside peak times. It was the New South Network that did it in for me, taking away my direct to city bus. Now its Bus-Train-Bus and takes 1.5hrs each way. By car it is 35min.

      Dont get me started on all the damn track faults and train delays and train cancellations and crowded trains that won’t let me on with my bike.

      As for bike, too dangerous. It’s too stressful, always on the lookout to see who is trying to kill me next. Once we get a more connected & safe cycle network, I might be more of a regular.

      Thus, for ME personally, a car is cheaper(as long as I have free parking), faster and more reliable. Even if I pay for parking, the time I save is more than worth it. For others, it may work out quite different.

      So, we need more expensive parking and other such disincentives to push people like me towards PT or cycling again.

      1. We don’t need to push people, we just need to give them realistic options, and not excessively subsidise or penalise one option over the other. They they can legitimately make whatever travel decision works for them, with a fair use of community resources.

      2. Disincentives… it is really lack of subsidized parking. For my parking spot in the city centre I paid $300 per month. An underground garage will be more expensive.

        If I drive to work I can just park my car in front of my office. Super convenient.

        However if I cycle, somehow they managed to build that parking lot without any way to securely park a bicycle. So I have to drag it upstairs to inside the office. Super annoying.

        Incidentally our parking lot is full of potholes all the time. I suspect it sinks plenty of money in maintenance.

  15. To me this is a strange thing to do. You still have many of the disadvantages of city living (not much space, having to deal with busy traffic everywhere, very expensive housing), while giving up on one of the main advantages, which is having access to a lot of things. Getting around in general also becomes much more dangerous.

    I’m give or take 15 minutes away from Northcote, 30 minutes away from Takapuna or Western Springs by car. Maybe 40 minutes all the way to the Botanic Garden.

    Now, by bus, for a round trip to Northcote you have to count an entire hour each way. Western Springs becomes too far away to go in a single afternoon. The botanic garden? Almost 2 hours. I can drive to Hamilton Gardens in the same time as taking the bus to the Auckland Botanic Garden.

    And maybe I’d cycle, but most other people will simply never ride a bicycle in this environment.

    The allure is definitely there. I almost made it back when I was still a yuppie. It was good while it lasted, but also the rent was bloody expensive.

  16. Great post thanks. Lime scooters back today I hear. A scooter or bike would of been a good option for me yesterday arriving via train from south at peak ending work time in the city centre but needed last couple of kms in peak outflow direction. Bus was maxed out, standing only all down isle, hot slow with not much view.

    1. Yes, I noticed that yesterday. I’m a bit wary of them still after the issue of wheel locking and safety. Really hope they are managed well. Think they are great to get people out of their cars

  17. Such a great article. I for one am always looking for eco-friendly ways to commute and I’ve gone the e-bike route, the regular push bike route and the hybrid car route. Not scooter yet though, although they are great fun! Well done for thinking outside the box when it comes to beating that old Auckland traffic and I hope many others will follow suit!

  18. My girlfriend rides an adult kick scooter she bought from Decathlon for 100 pounds. It’s great and about twice the speed of walking. Plus you can legally ride on the road or footpath. She loves it so much she’s going to ship it hoe when we move back.

  19. I bought a large heavy e-scooter and once a week ride it 3.9 k from home to Bayswater wharf. Onto the ferry, across to city, onto the Half Moon Bay ferry, then ride another 4 k to an informal hobby meeting. Do the trip in reverse in the afternoon.

    The Bayswater-city ferry in the morning is crowded and last count there were 11 bikes onboard plus my scooter. Sometimes stacked three or four deep across the stern. So I hope someone is keeping statistics that not only are ferries popular but the dual mode bike+ferry also is.

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