Car-share companies are adding to their fleets - thanks partly to millions in Government funding for electric vehicles - but are waiting on Auckland Transport to decide if it will help them deploy more cars onto Auckland streets.
Car-sharing start-up company Mevo was awarded $500,000 as part of the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority's August round of funding under the Low Emission Vehicle Contestable Fund. That fund was set up under the previous Government to accelerate the uptake of EVs and allocates $7 million a year to various applicants.
Mevo will put the money towards buying 100 battery-powered electric vehicles (or "BEVs" in EV-speak).
Co-founder and chief executive Erik Zydervelt says the new cars will be used, in part, for an expansion into Auckland, for which the Wellington company is already taking sign-ups, once AT puts its car-sharing plans on the table.
In 2017 Mevo landed $500,000 in EECA funding towards 50 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (or "PHEVs" in EV-speak - petrol vehicles that also have electric motors and can be recharged from a wall). The money was for vehicles and chargers in its home town. Zydervelt prefers not to reveal the exact size of Mevo's fleet today, but its app indicates that it stands at about 60.
As with other car-sharing companies, Mevo's cars can be booked and unlocked via a smartphone app. Prices include a $15 an hour option for one of its petrol-powered Volkswagen Polos, or $23 an hour for an Audi a3 e-tron. The hourly rate includes insurance and fuel - if needed - and there is no membership fee.
Once it does launch in Auckland, Mevo will come up against Cityhop, the car-sharing company founded by entrepreneur and former Auckland City councillor Victoria Carter, but bought by Toyota Financial Services NZ in November last year for an undisclosed sum.
Chief executive Ben Carter says Cityhop, which charges from $9.50 an hour (for a petrol-powered Toyota Yaris) to $15 an hour (for a VW e-Golf) has about 150 cars in its fleet - mostly in Auckland but with about 25 in Wellington after a recent incursion into the capital.
Carter said there was enough demand "for us to put another 100 cars into Auckland tomorrow", but there were two logistical holdups. One - as far as EVs are concerned - is a shortage of chargers. The more sweeping issue is the lack of spaces for Cityhop cars.
Cityhop now has about 50 carparks provided through the council-controlled AT, and looks to partnerships with local businesses or simply pays for the rest.
Carter is hoping for more, but that hangs in the balance as Auckland Transport mulls its car-share policy.
An AT spokeswoman said, "we are in the process of finalising a formal car share policy, and it is currently expected for a board decision in October ... To get a sense of best practice, we have also talked to other cities with existing car-share policy, such as Sydney, Seattle and Wellington.
"We are still working to finalise the policy, but we are certainly looking at making more spaces available in the right conditions. We know that on-street parking is a limited resource, especially around the city centre, so we need to be careful about impacts on retail and residential use in particular."
Big enough to stand on their own two feet?
Car-sharing operators have some deep-pocketed parents these days. As well as Toyota buying Cityhop, Z Energy has built up a 32 per cent stake in Mevo over several rounds of investment, and in August, Genesis paid $2m for a 40 per cent stake in Christchurch EV car-share start-up Yoogo, which launched last year with 100 pure EVs, and again with $500,000 of EECA backing.
Does AT believe car sharing should be totally commercial, or subsidised to encourage more people to share a vehicle?
"That is certainly an issue we have been considering during the course of the policy," the spokeswoman said. "As car-share reduces private car travel, there are public policy arguments for some form of support to the operators – but the options might be more around discounts on parking charges rather than any form of direct subsidy."
AT has been consulting Mevo, Cityhop and others as it formulates its policy.
Mevo's Zydervelt said the agency had done great work and he is optimistic about the outcome.
Carter is more circumspect, and waiting to see how things pan out before offering judgment.
The two companies, and their two chief executives, have different approaches to carpark spaces.
Zydervelt has pitched the "free-floating" space agreement his company negotiated with Wellington City Council as a key factor in boosting the usability and popularity of car-sharing. Mevo cars can be left in any council-approved carpark space.
"Our model is round-trip - the car returns to a dedicated home - which is very different to free-floating," sniffs Carter.
"Our vehicles can be booked in advance, and there is no need to do laps around the city to find a carpark.
"Round-trip car-share provides significant benefits to a community whereas free-floating is called internationally a 'drive yourself taxi' and undermines most transport initiatives and investments by a city."
The pair also differ on their EV focus.
Mevo has a mix of petrol and electric cars. The 100 BEVs bought with its latest EECA funding will be introduced in the New Year. The make and model have yet to be decided. Mevo's aim was to go all EV, said Zydervelt.
Carter is also broadly sympathetic to EVs. In August last year, Cityhop was given $327,000 by EECA toward 20 low-emission vehicles for its fleet. It introduced its first EVs in November, and this month celebrated building its EV fleet to 25.
But Carter warns that "simply swapping an EV for a petrol car can be just virtue-signalling." He sees the growth of car-sharing overall - however a vehicle is powered - as the most important factor in getting more cars off the road, which in turn he sees as having easily the biggest positive impact on the environment.
Overall, Cityhop's 150 cars are used by 5000 members, while Mevo won't reveal membership.
Carter claims that every Cityhop vehicle takes nine to 15 cars off the road and that after joining the service, the average member drives 2000km less per year - meaning "our members cut CO2 by 1,000,000kg every year".
Despite having been bought out by Toyota, Carter says his company takes a multi-brand approach. Half its EVs bought since the November deal had been VW e-Golfs, he said (the balance are Prius Primes).
Where art thou LimePods?
This year, Lime founder Toby Sun talked up his company's trial with ride-share cars or "LimePods" in Seattle.
In typical style, Lime - best known for its e-scooters - went in mob-handed, with an initial licence for 400 LimePods, later raised to 1500 in the northwestern US city.
Sun had ambitions to expand the pods into other cities, including Auckland.
Lime NZ Public Affairs Manager Lauren Mentjox told the Herald this week, "we don't have a timeline for when LimePods will be available in other markets yet. The trial in Seattle is still ongoing."
Make that ongoing, and occasionally prone to controversy.
A local TV station reported a spate of parcels stolen in front-porch thefts have been facilitated by LimePods used as getaway cars. One incident was caught on a home's security cam, with the images of a trademark green-and-white Fiat 500 LimePod going viral.
Lime responded that its car-shares weren't a smart choice for the thief - or thieves - given the requirement for a credit card and to upload a driver's licence photo before a vehicle can be unlocked. However, police reportedly still could not locate one offender after they lost him - or her - in a high-speed chase.
Looking at Seattle media, LimePods seem to have become something of a whipping boy - as scooters are at times here.
Only a LimePod can make for a much more dramatic pic after being discarded.