Lime has just clocked its millionth ride in Auckland, but is not happy.

One in three customers can't find one of its e-scooters when they need one, Lime's Asia-Pacific government relations manager Mitchell Price says.

The lobbyist says analysis of the last 200,000 customer interactions shows that around a third of its customers opened the Lime app but then didn't take a ride - indicating they couldn't find a scooter and gave up.

"People in Devonport and Takapuna and West Auckland and South Auckland try to find a Lime but there are none there," Price grouses.

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Lime's trial mobile trading licence allows it to expand into outer suburbs.

But Price complains a cap on scooter numbers means it couldn't push into outer areas without cannibalising the inner suburbs and the CBD, where it was already stretched.

Lime's trial licence allows it 1000 e-scooters in Auckland, which was recently raised to 1200.

But "200 is nothing," Price says. "We need at least 1500. We'd like 2000."

The Lime man says his company has another 1000 e-scooters in its Kingsland warehouse, ready to go.

In mid-January, as Lime hit a nationwide million-ride milestone, co-founder and CEO Toby Sun told the Herald that if there was enough customer support, his company would like to put more than 10,000 e-scooters on Auckland streets.

Today, Price said he hoped newcomer Wave (backed by Lime's US arch-rival Bird), will join it in advocating for no cap on e-scooter numbers.

"There's no limit on the number of bikes or cars on the road, and Uber can have as many vehicles as it likes," Price said.

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"We want the freedom to be a transport operator like any other in a fair and open market."

Price said beyond making it easier to get a ride, more Limes on Auckland streets would mean more jobs and money.

Inside Lime's Kingsland warehouse. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Inside Lime's Kingsland warehouse. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

So far, Lime had paid out around $1 million to "juicers" or casual contractors paid between $7 and $20 per e-scooter for collection and recharging at the end of the day.

He said Lime currently had 200 juicers in Auckland - many of them students or retired - and a waiting list of 5000.

Cold water

Although a self-styled e-scooter enthusiast, Councilor Chris Darby - who chairs the city's planning committee - poured cold water on Price's no-cap call.

"It is premature for Auckland Council to discuss uplifting the cap on e-scooter numbers. We are in the trial phase and once completed council will look at such requests, to help inform next steps," he told the Herald.

"Our staff will look at how capped and unlimited e-scooter deployments have fared in other international cities. There may be a case for additional scooter numbers in some parts of Auckland - for example, suburban centres where the trial does not currently extend, but I doubt we would allow for unlimited numbers."

Darby said he gets asked "why there are no Limes in Manukau, Henderson and Browns Bay for instance, but density of scooters rather than overall numbers is likely to be a bigger issue.

"We must be mindful of other users of the city's footpaths and the contest for space in high pedestrian areas. The demise of large dockless bike share platforms in China and many other cities in recent years came about because of poor management. Council and e-scooter companies should take note, to avoid a repeat."

War of words

Although Price wanted Wave to work with his company on the e-scooter numbers issue, the early signs of cooperation were not promising.

At Wave's launch, a staffer described Lime's local operation as "bloated." It's costs were too high because it employed 50 mechanics in Auckland.

Price said Lime had 50 staff in total in the city, filling a number of roles. He said that number was necessary for a smooth-running e-scooter operation in a city of 1.5m people. "If you're not staffed-up like that, you're not serious," he said.