The Eye of the Fish

Leviathan
September 30, 2019

Scootering along

Have you ridden a scooter yet? One of those new-fangled electric scooter thingies, not those little children’s ones about the size of a kneecap? All those in favour say “Aye !!” All those against say “Nay !!” The Ayes have it. No? Party vote called for!

While Wellington is well served by buses through the centre of town, they all mostly choose the one same path, and it is not a path I live on. Nor work on. So while the bustastrophe may be hurting you a lot, it has passed me by – I do not have to hub. By the time I have walked to join the bus route, I may as well keep on walking the rest of the way. But sometimes I need to get there faster than walking – and sometimes the bus is actually slower than walking. So: enter the scooter as the final link, the last mile solution to the urban transport dilemma.

A man in a suit rides an electric BIRD rental scooter along a city street in San Diego, California, U.S. September 4, 2018.REUTERS/Mike Blake – RC1EEA4B55E0

So for the past week or two I’ve been riding a scooter back and forth across town, and it’s been great – mostly. I’ve tried to hire an Onzo bike on several occasions but could never get the software to allow me, so I’ve given up on that, despite them taking $20 of my money – or more – they’re just not cutting it. But the scooter is different, especially the one that uses your Uber account. Simplicity itself.

Day one: I travelled along during the day, tentatively feeling my way (a grown man having not been on a scooter or skateboard for about 40 years) and so I kept to the footpath. It was the day after that guy in Auckland had died falling off a Lime scooter after all, and no, of course I did not have a helmet. Averaging just 7km/hr on the tiny dashboard, I mingled with the few people walking my route. No one seemed to mind. I became a human walker, not a scooter wanker. Crossing roads was a little tricky – those kerb transitions that were put in a few years ago for the disabled are a boon for the tiny-wheel-enabled. Driveways with a lip of 20mm are a killer by comparison. A trip that cost me $10 in an Uber earlier that day cost me only $5 on the uber-scooter. I was hooked. Cheaper than an Uber, more fun, and no forced chat. I could talk to myself!

Day two: despite having been horrified at the sight of people zooming past me on a scooter on the road – including one going down Vivian St i.e. STATE HIGHWAY NUMBER ONE !!! on a scooter – dangerous as fuck ! – despite all that tut-tutting to myself the day before, I found that as I was heading off on my tiny-wheeled friend at Rush Hour, there were masses of people on the pavement. The footpath was no longer a safe place to be. Hence, I took to the road – to the bus lane to be precise. I upped my speed from 7kph to 18kph, which seemed to be the limit. Cars sped by at 50kph, and much to the irritation of those in a bus behind me, I could not get out of the way. I could not get into the car lane and let the bus undertake me from the left. Nor could i go into the gutter and let the bus overtake me from the right. Either would have been certain death… There were no convenient lay-bys or driveways where I could safely hole up or turn into a pedestrian. There was no option other than to continue along Lambton Quay, finger pressing flat down as max speed was attained, until the next bus stop was passed – well, he stopped, and I passed. I live to tell the tale. You sit there, transfixed with excitement. $5.40 a pop for my (short) life story.

Day three: now having got more confident on the road, I became a mixture of both pedestrian and road-user. I was on the footpath one minute, I veered onto the road the next. Those yellow-studded disabled crossing thingies became a beacon for where my journey could go to next. I kept off the main road and became a Back Street Boy. I was In Sync with the modern world. My youth was regained. I sped up to 15kph on the pavement, not quite weaving in and out of the pedestrian flow, but I could change from one form to another. I became a shape-shifter, a succubus, a chameleon of the night and day. Approaching a pedestrian crossing, I faced the age-old dilemma : what am I doing here? Am I like a car on the road, beholden by red lights? Or do I get off and walk across the intersection, becoming once more as one with the bi-pedal movers that I once was, before I became bi-circular? Bi-curious? I was like that Roller Girl from Almost Famous, perpetually in motion, a vision in leg-warmers and hot-pants (she, not me). In fact, I was almost Famous in an unpleasant manner, getting almost run over while I shape shifted from pedestrian stroller to tiny dancer all in the one crossing point, and was spotted by a friend who said he noticed me break several laws of the jungle all in the one intersection. I had indeed become an animal on wheels, albeit tiny ones. $5.20 and life scoots on.

And so it goes. I couldn’t find a uber Jump the next day, so I hired a Flamingo instead in order to get my fix – and it was not as good. Software was buggy. Tried two or three Flamingos before I could successfully log on. Sort your software out or you’ll go bust !

Some observations: its a fun new technology and its here to stay. But the terrain is not suited to it – we really need a safer option than footpath, bus lane, or mingle with the killer vans. The impulse to speed is way too easy – another tiny surge through your thumb can take you from quiet meek and mild Clarke Kent, to a super speeding Superman in the flash of an eye and that’s unsettling for the true bipedal walker. Scooters really don’t belong in bus lanes at all, but is there any option at present? Using the scooter, there is limited ability to signal your intentions. There are no indicators, obviously, but even the old bicycle trick of extending an arm is tricky on a scooter, as that means controlling the direction of the damn thing with just one hand, and it skitters about when you do that, risking a spectacular and potentially skull-splitting fall. There’s no centripetal motion keeping you upright – they’re fun alright, but they could easily turn into a death trap if you blink at the wrong time.

I’ll vote for any candidate who campaigns to put scooter lanes into Wellington CBD..!

Henry Filth
30 - 09 - 19

“Scooters really don’t belong in bus lanes at all, but is there any option at present?”

Not as far as I can see, but five to seven years of consultations and reviews should be able to confirm that.

Leviathan
30 - 09 - 19

Hmmm, Filthy comment – but sadly true. I reckon it needs to be resolved within one month, let alone one year! Not waiting for 5-7 years!

stuart gardyne
1 - 10 - 19

Firstly – disappointed to here you support Uber. When, and if they ever, pay their slaves (drivers) a Living Wage then I might. Till then I’ll continue to support traditional taxis.
Should I use a scooter, I’d support Flamingo.

Secondly – where should they travel – road, bus lane, cycle lane, footpath. Does it matter?
Their presence is positive if they reduce use of cars. But are they instead an alternative to walking or using the bus.
Scooters certainly keep other road and pedestrians users alert. As a cyclist and pedestrian, I now need to be aware of scooters and their different speed and movement patterns. Just like electric bikes. They are unpredictable and travel at a different pace. Its a bit like skiing and boarding. They take different lines.
Bob Jones, Justin Lester and yours truely all agree that the Golden Mile should be car free. A narrower carriageway could easily become bus, cycle and scooter territory and wider footpaths for pedestrians. Sure, thats just a small part of where scooters want to travel. The waterfront and Oriental Parade sort of cope but I’m not sure how to solve places like Adelaide Road, Tory Street, taranaki Street, Victoria Street…

Levi
2 - 10 - 19

Stuart, yes, I felt a bit dubious about Uber at first, until I used the technology to hire one, and then the whole world changed. It really does make getting a car so much easier – and taxis are getting wiped out, world wide, by the new technology. I’m still an old New Yorker at heart – wait at the side of the road and hail a passing cab with a loud whistle – but that model is fast fading. In Auckland in February for the NZIA conference, I waited on the Strand for over half an hour, and not a single taxi went past, full or not. However, several million silver Toyota Prius went by, unmarked, evidently all carrying Dorklanders – Auckland has totally adopted the Uber model. The next day I downloaded the app and conceded defeat.

I’ve yet to meet a grumpy Uber driver who thinks he is a slave – I haven’t taken that many Uber actually, under 10 in the year so far, although i have friends who take one twice a day – an expensive habit. But here’s the thing: Uber Corporation is actually still losing money hand over fist – their business model is uneconomic – so it is not as if they are a rapacious money-grabber. Their investors poured in billions, and they are just chewing through it at an amazingly fast rate, so even if the drivers are not getting paid all that much, it seems that the bosses are not either.

But one of the Uber drivers I met the other day really fascinated me – he was a mature student studying economics, had bought himself a 3 year old Nissan Leaf (pure electric, not a silly hybrid Prius), and was putting himself through Uni as a foreign student (i.e. pays high fees) on 4 hours Uber driving a day. Big smile on his face. Clearly the economics of the situation work for him – hell, I can’t afford a 3 year old Leaf, but he can!

I’d love to support Flamingo more, but their software is crappy compared to the Jump. Put simply: half the time the scanner will not read the QR code and so you simply can’t hire the bike. Literally 2 out of the 4 Flamingos I tried would not scan me in.

starkive
2 - 10 - 19

I recommend a quick read of this from the Spinoff:

https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/29-09-2019/the-extraordinary-and-appalling-true-story-of-the-rise-of-uber/

Andy Foster
2 - 10 - 19

Ideally e scooters belong on the road – if it is safe – or in bike lanes. Currently the one place they are not legally allowed to use is bike lanes – so a change in the law is required. If we can make the Central City more people friendly through safety engineering and safer speeds, then we should be able to get scooters on the road – thought 15kph sounds a bit slow Levi !
We should really have been making progress on this over the last three years – it was obvious that this would be part of LGWM under every scenario, but all we’ve done is the carry on with the pedestrian count down lights (which are great but were already underway). Speed limits fell over by one vote in the last term of Council – and are clearly needed and would be supported by the current Council. Doing those things would help e – scootering.
kind regards

Andy

stuart gardyne
2 - 10 - 19

Levi,
Uber drivers can’t be grumpy. Apparently they get rated by customers and barred if they are not nice enough. But Levi, have any given you their Zoomy or Ola business card and asked you to call them on that next time? They get paid better on those I understand. Anecdotal.
Yes Uber corp is making a loss.So are their drivers. Making a loss means their shareholders don’t get a dividend. But how many of the executives are compensated very, very well. The logic that drivers only get paid appropriately when a profit is made surely should also apply to the executives.
Sure its easy to use the more user friendly option but like many things in life (sustainability, fitness come to mind) sometimes you have to do the hard yards. They don’t come for free.

Starkive,
its a long article and I haven’t read it yet but will. Suspect it confirms what I have read elsewhere. Disturbing.

Andy,
pleased to see we agree on this issue!
e-scooters and e-bikes are a wonderful addition to transportation modes and, it is hoped, will have some impact on reducing car usage. Their impact has been so sudden and immediate that its not hard to understand why resolution of where they should be used has yet to be resolved. Cycle and scooter lanes is perfect but will only occur on a limited number of streets.

Stuart

stuart gardyne
2 - 10 - 19

Starkive,

the Spinoff article about Uber is both disturbing and distressing.

readers, please read it before using Uber, Uber eats, Jump again. Or better still don’t use them again.

Henry Filth
2 - 10 - 19

Out of idle curiosity, how far can you get on an e-scooter?

Starting at the station, can I get to the airport? The hospital? Brooklyn? Karori Mall?

Levi
3 - 10 - 19

Mr Filth: range is apparently around 15 miles (24 kilometres) on this size of scooter – so if you get one with a freshly charged battery, there’s no reason why you couldn’t get to all of those places on the same day… I am however fairly stunned to learn from Andy’s comment that “Currently the one place they are not legally allowed to use is bike lanes” which indeed shows that the law is an ass. That would be the one place, in my mind, where they should absolutely mandated to go! They’re way too dangerous to really have on the same road as cars, they’re clearly an intense irritation to people on the footpath (I’m guilty, but then at least I was pretty considerate most of the time), and it seems to be nuts to put them in the bus lane. Use common sense: break the law.

Stuart – thanks for the link to the article and yes, like you, I am appalled by the business practices of their Chief Executive. But if you operate on the basis of avoiding businesses with appalling executives, I’d never be able to see a film from Miramar, Sony Universal, Pixar or Columbia; I’d never drive a Holden, Vauxhall, or GM, let alone a Volkswagen, Fiat or Chrysler; never read any paper like the Times, the Sun, the Telegraph, the Dom Post, the Herald – basically anything printed except the Guardian; never buy any toy ever made in China; never buy any clothing made anywhere in the world, so basically I would have to knit my own sweater made from the dried up flakes of my own skin as the only trustworthy source of material…. Should I still boycott Aspirin made by Bayer as they were started by Nazis? Should I boycott Elizabeth Ardern as their products were once tested on rabbits? Where do you draw the line?

I’m actually one of the most ethically-driven consumers in New Zealand (if you will excuse the Trumpist self-aggrandising in that statement) – I boycott buying anything from Harvey Norman as I hate their shouty adverts; I refuse to go to the Warehouse because I disagree with their former jingle the “everyone gets a bargain”; I never eat Cadbury’s since they started using Palm oil and sold out to Mondelay; and I refuse to listen to Spotify, no matter how convenient it is, because they don’t pay their artists. I still buy CDs just because I damn well want to pay for my own music. I buy books and I read them on pages, not online, and I pay to go to movies rather than sit at home and pirate them online. I’m clearly as pure as the driven snow… and yet I am human and sometimes I succumb to temptation and use an uber because it is half the price of a taxi.

The point is, these things have changed the economic model that we have been living with for the last 100 years. Uber has smashed the taxi industry – do I shed a tear for the great mythic friendly taxi driver or do I just accept that they were always over-priced and under available and good riddance? Similarly, scooters, ebikes and skateboards are changing the way the “last mile” works and thus changing the physical nature of the city we live in.

starkive
3 - 10 - 19

Whoah there, Levi – a touch of the Godwins.

I have never used Uber and to be honest haven’t had a lot of call for taxis in recent rusticated years. Nonetheless, I can say that since the 1980s deregulation, I’m pretty sure I haven’t met a rich taxi driver. Just a lot of sleep-deprived recent immigrants hoping like hell their passengers are not leaving something nasty on the upholstery. I actually did the Auckland version of the Knowledge way back when we still had NY-style, transferable licences and some people made a mint in those days, but I think you’d struggle to find a pot of gold amongst all those Priuses.

Levi
3 - 10 - 19

Starkive – godwins, yes, but then this is actually a rare case of where it really is relevant, surely!

stuart gardyne
3 - 10 - 19

yeah raising Uber was a bit judgemental.

But Levi, after reading your long list of things to avoid, lets get together and sing a duet!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdZ5wY9XxdA

Leviathan
6 - 10 - 19

Seems like other people have been interested in the topic as well: here’s Simon Wilson at Newsroom.
https://www.newsroom.co.nz/@new-auckland/2019/09/25/825791/e-scooters-ban-them-or-embrace-them

“There are two complaints about e-scooters; one of them is that they endanger pedestrians and the other is that they’re inherently unsafe and the number of crashes is too high…. He says while the first complaint is true; many scooters riders, initially, had never set foot on one before. “It’s really important, in my view, that we separate scooters and pedestrians” – which he says would be done by improving infrastructure for micro-mobility transport methods.

“Clearly there have been far more accidents than people have expected.”… “Little wheels, uneven ground … our footpaths are not built for them. That means councils, and the Ministry of Transport have to consider the issues of speed, helmets and so on.

Henry Filth
6 - 10 - 19

Thanks for that Levi. Much appreciated.

These scooters seem an excellent way of getting around the place, but I’m not optimistic about how they’ll go once they are submerged in the paralyzing morass of Wellington regional transport planning.

Leviathan
9 - 10 - 19

But that is the thing Henry – they don’t fit in. They’re not an part of the planning – there is no plan for them – they seep through the edges and fill up all the gaps and no one quite knows how to cope with them. It is a disruptor technology – and it is disrupting like crazy. The fact is, although in theory it is a “trial”, the Councils are not really in control of anything and there are no rules to follow – in fact, not even any rules to break. The whole thing is wiiiiiiiiiiide open.