E-scooter war heats up as companies try new tactics in a competitive market

Lime e-scooters on the streets of Auckland. - Photo: RNZ/ Alex Perrottet

The e-scooter war is heating up, with new companies, super-sized scooters, and freebies and discounts to attract customers in the now competitive market.

The fledgling industry's also hit some speed bumps - scooters are being picked up by tow trucks, charging $200 each to release them.

Flamingo, the bright pink new entrant, was founded by two 21-year-olds, Nick Hyland and Jacksen Love. It launched in Wellington in June with 400 scooters and dropped 525 in Auckland three weeks ago.

Flamingo, behemoth Lime and fellow newcomer Wave all are trying to jockey for position and outdo each other with deals and benefits.

"Some of those key deals definitely come in handy: Like our public transport zones, student discount plan, and we also offer free helmets which has been hugely popular," Mr Love said.

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E-scooter newcomers Wave. Photo: Supplied

Flamingo waives the unlock fee - $1 - if a rider takes it from most train stations and bigger bus stops. For the safety conscious they'll send you a free helmet (you just pay delivery) and also offer a student discount.

The company that once had a monopoly in Auckland, Lime, is waiting for Flamingo upon its launch in Christchurch on 1 September. Singaporean company Beam has also been there since in June. In Wellington, Uber-owned Jump is its competitor.

Lime recently put up its price eight cents per minute, but this week announced a new super-sized offering to roll out soon.

It has bigger wheels and a better battery, which makes it 5kg heavier. Meanwhile, debate rages on about whether they should be allowed on footpaths.

But Auckland Council said it hadn't had anything formal from Lime about their plans.

"Lime has not released any of these scooters in Auckland and council has not received an application from Lime asking if they can introduce larger scooters to Auckland, so we are unable to comment at this stage on what further safety measure they may or may not have," e-scooter project lead Mervyn Chetty said.

Another problem in their rapid ascent to transport ubiquity: Tow trucks. Annoyed residents have started calling them when they find a scooter on their private property.

Launching mid-June in Christchurch

A Beam scooter. Photo: Supplied

Auckland Towing says it has a garage stacked with about 20-odd scooters, which have been there for months because the companies won't pay the $200 fee each to release them.

Director Anthony Ashford says one company initially paid to release them but stopped, and the last they heard from them was a couple of months ago.

"The onus is on the scooter company. [They] have to take responsibility for their clients leaving their scooters where they shouldn't be leaving them. They can't put that responsibility on us and say it's our fault," Mr Ashford said.

"They've got availability in their user contracts to recoup any losses, including towing or impounding, from the person who hired the scooter to start with. Presumably they don't want to do that because it would make [the companies] look bad."

He says they don't take them from footpaths, only when they're called about them being a nuisance sitting on private property. Mr Ashord says the companies are just leaving them idle at the tow yard while they talk to their lawyers, but he says there's no way around it - $200 please.

Both Lime and Flamingo say there should be no reason why a tow truck's needed, and they'll happily come take them off people's hands if they're a hassle.

"We have a robust system in place to deal with scooters parked in places where they shouldn't be. Non-compliantly parked scooters should be reported to Lime via the app or via a phone number printed on the scooter and Lime will pick them up within a three-hours of this being reported, Lime's public affairs manager Lauren Mentjox said .

Flamingo said it was still seeking legal advice.

"But we'd really encourage any private landowners to contact us first. We're happy to be really proactive and relocate any scooters. We want to make sure scooter sharing works for the whole city," Mr Love said.

Auckland licences 1875 scooters across three brands, Wellington 800 scooters for two companies, and once Flamingo launches in Christchurch it'll have a maximum of 1300 for the three types. They're all $1 to unlock, and either 30 or 38 cents per minute to use.