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Can UBCO electric bikes take on Lime scooters?

Electric scooters have been all the rage in parts of New Zealand over the past six months, with Lime scooters clogging up both footpaths and media headlines. But we could soon be seeing more electric moped bikes on our streets too, if Kiwi startup UBCO has its way, writes Richard MacManus.

Local startup UBCO is a rapidly expanding business which I’m told is looking into making its electric bikes available as app-driven rentals around town – just like Lime’s scooters.

UBCO CEO Timothy Allen confirmed that “UBCO is currently working with Kwikli, which runs a Moped rideshare from Smales Farm in Auckland”.

Allen said UBCO is “hoping to launch the first system later this year”.

In the meantime, UBCO’s e-bike is available for anyone to purchase. Although it doesn’t come cheap, since the 2018 model 2×2 retails for $8000.

Utility first

It will be a brave move for UBCO to take on Lime, especially considering its primary focus up till now has been to target the utility vehicle market.

On that front, UBCO has just announced a trial with pizza company Domino’s, to test out using its 2×2 electric bike as a delivery vehicle. UBCO is also involved in two postal fleet trials in New Zealand.

Domino’s has so far purchased three UBCO 2×2 vehicles, “for a trial to see if they meet the performance requirements to be part of their delivery bike fleet”. The three mopeds will be tested in the Auckland, Taupo and Queenstown CBDs.

UBCO is onto something here. Delivery of online orders is a market with a lot of upside, given the ever-increasing rate of e-commerce and companies like Uber moving into deliveries.

UBCO is looking into other utility markets too.

“We have a range of fleet investigations in our traditional markets like farming, tourism and conservation,” Allen said.

In addition, UBCO is a local company on the move. As well as its New Zealand presence, UBCO operates in Australia and has set up an office in Oregon, USA. UBCO is now looking to expand into Europe.

To fund this expansion, UBCO has started a crowdfunding campaign on Snowball Effect.

An e-vehicle revolution

Even if deliveries are the main reason, pretty soon you could be seeing UBCO mopeds zipping past you as you’re riding a Lime scooter around town. The 2×2 bike has a maximum speed of 50kph, more than twice as fast as a Lime scooter.

Note that unlike e-scooters, mopeds must be ridden on the road. So one potential drawback to the rise of delivery and rental mopeds is that our roads may soon become as clogged as our footpaths.

If Lime has been allowed in your city, you’ll have seen those green scooters everywhere. In my own home city, Lower Hutt, you can’t walk round the block without coming across several Lime scooters awaiting their next rider. By all accounts, it’s been the same in other cities where Lime has been trialled – including Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin.

With electric vehicles, there’s also the danger of software glitches – as Lime users discovered this year. A Lime software glitch caused wheels to lock up on its scooters, contributing to an alarming rate of injuries to both riders and pedestrians. Auckland and Dunedin both temporarily banned Lime scooters as a result, although they’re back on the streets now.

Having no doubt taken note of the Lime PR fiasco, UBCO is putting special emphasis on the safety of its 2×2.

“Safety is the number one factor for us at Domino’s,” said Domino’s NZ General Manager Cameron Toomey in a UBCO press release. “Being more of a motorbike than a scooter, with two-wheel drive plus a low centre of gravity, the UBCO 2×2 has more power and greatly increased stability for our drivers.”

e-bikes vs e-scooters

Looking at its short history so far, UBCO has been trying out a number of business models. It started out in 2016 as a farm utility bike, went on to be used by The Department of Conservation and tourism company Real Journeys, and has now branched out into the urban delivery vehicles market.

For consumer rentals, UBCO’s potential partner Kwikli is a small startup only operating in Auckland. The mopeds that Kwikli currently uses are electric, but they’re much bulkier than the UBCO 2×2. So you can tell right away that Kiwiki will benefit from the sleeker and frankly much cooler UBCO vehicles.

But how likely is it that Kwikli and UBCO can challenge Lime scooters, which are already practically ubiquitous around the cities they operate in?

Well, the pricing is similar and so that won’t present any issues. Kwikli charges $2 per ride plus $0.35 per minute, while Lime currently charges $1 to unlock plus $0.30 per minute.

But it’s the ease of use that Kwikli and UBCO will struggle with, compared to Lime.

As noted, Lime scooters can be ridden on the footpath and you’re not required to wear a helmet. Since you can typically find an available scooter by just walking down the street, Lime scooters are both easy to use and easy to find. It also helps that Lime has the kind of slick and attractive mobile app that Silicon Valley VC money will buy you.

By comparison, there’s a number of usability obstacles that Kwikli users have to overcome.

Firstly, Kwikli will only verify you to ride one of its mopeds if you have at least a restricted car license. Once verified, you’ll have to wear a helmet and a “high-visibility vest” (both provided by Kwikli) while riding the moped. There’s also an insurance excess of “a minimum of NZD$1,800”. Finally, there’s an hours restriction in place: from 10pm till 6am, the mopeds will be “deactivated”.

These user experience hurdles will make it very tough for Kwikli and UBCO to take on Lime in the urban mobility market, at least for consumers who simply want a ride to the other side of the CBD.

Regardless, I think we’ll start to see more and more UBCO mopeds on our streets – delivering your pizza and other food takeaways, maybe delivering your mail, and as a replacement for the courier system for many retail goods.

So deliveries will be a significant market for UBCO. And as a bonus for all of us, it’ll be great for the environment to see all those e-bikes running around town.

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