Lime have been operating in Auckland since October last year. Six months. I know, is that all? It feels like they’ve been around a lot longer; e-scooters just seem part of the city now. So as they are seeking to renew their licence to operate I asked them if we could run some data. And it’s all pretty interesting, especially when mapped.
First it’s important to note that Lime are now not the only operator, and there has been a huge increase in privately owned micro-mobility devices on the streets too. So the data that follows is only partial for the city, which just makes the numbers all the more interesting.
Here’s the impressive first six months of Lime in Auckland:
As with other cities around the world use is focussed on the city centre and related metro-centres, where demand is highest, below is the general pattern of where they target charged devices each day:
Obviously the operators try to match supply with demand, trying, in real time, to hit the Goldilocks of sufficient scooters to met searches, but not so many that utilisation rates are low:
And where have these trips come from? Are they new trips? Substituting other modes? Extending existing ones?
Lime say that 22% of users report replacing car journeys in Auckland. In the following report from Christchurch, scooter hires replaced car journeys at around 25-30%, but replaced walking is the biggest at 40%. Interestingly 19% report making an entirely new trip because of the option:
And what are people accessing on this mode?
Lime offered these quotes to illustrate use:
What really interests me apart from scooter hire offering a fascinating example of real world latent demand; the revelation of a desire for a movement option that we didn’t know was there, is the information that Council and Auckland Transport are now getting from scooter share operators about desire lines in our city.
These new journeys are taking place in a quite literally crowded market place, with users having to squeeze onto either crowded footpaths or carriageways; neither of which is ideal. E-scooters are neither a great fit with pedestrians nor traffic for obvious if opposite reasons. Except where competing traffic is sparse, which is largely not that case in central Auckland, or where there are dedicated lanes for them.
The resultant desire lines look like really clear evidence of where we need to add the missing ‘3rd space’ of micro-mobility lanes: Bike lanes, essentially, for all sorts of these intermediate devices; not on the footpath, nor mixed with motor vehicles. And happily, going by the example below, these are pretty much the routes the cycling and walking experts and advocates have long proposed for the city: Quay, Queen, Karangahape, Victoria, Symonds, Beach:
Of those of course Quay and Beach have had very successful separated lanes added in the last few years. Karangahape is due to get them added any day now, Victoria St is also in the works somewhere though seems to have fallen into the ubiquitous cycle lane delivery hole. Of the routes above the obvious omissions are Queen and Symonds Sts. Here for example is an AT map from a few years ago:
Symonds St seems permanently stuck in the bus versus bike lane problem, as the key access route for both city centre universities clearly it is extremely important for both modes. Hopefully Auckland Transport’s corridor programme will be coming up with solutions for this key bus route, and desirable micro-mobility one.
Queen St however is suddenly in a much more positive position, Access For Everyone, the City centre access transformation process, offers the chance to quickly and cheaply re-purpose a current general traffic lane into this kind of route, through the trials required by Council due to start this year. As well as the option of transforming existing parking bays as bike/scoot parking.
So who loves them, who hates them?
UMR did a survey in Auckland, revealing a pretty clear age spilt:
Interestingly reports suggest the Christchurch trial face a lower resistance and higher popularity than in Auckland. Aside from topography I suspect that the reason for this is simply more space, fewer people. Lower level of competition for all types of area; footpath, bike lane, and carriageway.
- 5.5 Public reception
- 5.5.1 There has been a wide range of feedback through multiple communication channels since the trial began. The trials in Christchurch and Auckland, and Lime’s recent roll-out to other locations, have gained significant media and public attention.
- 5.5.2 From the Council’s e-scooter survey 75%of the respondents think that the e-scooter trial has had a positive or very positive effect on the city. A similar number (74%) of respondents felt that e-scooter share companies should probably or definitely be allowed to operate in Christchurch after the trial.
- 5.5.3 People that had used the e-scooters were much more likely to view them positively and feel more comfortable sharing space with the scooters on the footpath and other public spaces.
- 5.5.4 A random, but representative survey sample o fChristchurch and Auckland residents was also undertaken. Auckland residents are more mixed towards the impact of shared e- scooters on the city, while Christchurch residents are more positive overall. This may reflect differences in implementation and/or supportive infrastructure provision in the two cities.
It looks reasonable to me that the operators contribute to a fund to help pay for this work, and interestingly Christchurch City Council charges about twice as much as Auckland: $86 per year per device. Which of course won’t fund any bike lanes directly, but could cover a salary of a dedicated micro-mobility member of AT’s team, depending on numbers deployed…?
In both cities authorities limit the numbers of scooters to what look like fairly arbitrary levels. I’m not really clear how they settle on the quantum, as it seems the operators have every incentive to not over supply as that would severely reduce their financial viability. I guess it would interesting to see what equilibrium the market would reach left to its own?
Lime report significant numbers of hires at Britomart in the morning weekday rush hour, clearly people are using micro-mobility hire with Transit, as a first mile/last mile enabler. It would be great to see effort put in to improving this option at the other end of the transit journey, at suburban stations. Again this would ideally come with much needed work on completing safe separated networks focussed on Rapid Transit stations. But this could start with the hire companies targeting stations which would yield useful data in the meantime.
To conclude, this experience reinforces the evidence from the e-bike boom that small electric devices look like the true disruptive technology in the urban transport space now. They offer a great many positives; low environmental impact, spatial efficiency, they can scale at low cost, evolve quickly, are fun. And are a good fit with longer distance Transit systems can and do displace some driving, especially in dense centres and for those troublesome short trips. And the negatives look like they are largely addressable through the provision of dedicated space for their use.
As it increasingly seems that car ride-hail is leading to increased traffic congestion and is taking trips form Transit, at least in the US, micro-mobility may well be a preferable one to encourage from a policy and city-quality point of view.
That this new mode replaces some trips that we’re previously walked, and generates new trips that previously weren’t taken, is also tremendously interesting. It will be fascinating to see where this disruptive technology settles.