Collecting Lime scooters has been described as “like Pokemon but with cash”. Photo / Michael Craig

But is there any money in the scramble for scooters, and are we seeing the turf wars and break-ins that have reportedly hit Lime contractors in the US?

The Herald spoke to two juicers.

Will, a 30-something with a day job as a software developer, become a juicer after seeing a Facebook ad promising up to $20 to collect and recharge a scooter (or “harvesting” in Lime parlance).

But he says most scooters have a $7 or $8 bounty; the most he’s ever seen is $11.

Student John Mailley says most scooters pay $7. The highest he’s seen is $14.

Customers find the e-scooters using a smartphone app and GPS. Juicers use the app in a special “juicer” mode, which displays scooters with flat batteries on a map, each with a price on its head. The bounty depends on where a scooter was dumped by its last user, and how depleted its battery.

Once a scooter pops up on the app’s screen, juicers race to claim it.

“It’s like Pokemon but with cash,” Will says.

He was once about to claim a scooter near Orakei train station when a rival sprang over the fence and seized it. Another night he raced up a final stretch of Bastion Pt on foot, as scooters chirped ahead (juicers can use the Lime app to make a scooter beep, which aids final location after GPS gives the general area). “I could hear other juicers hoofing it up the hill behind me,” he says.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a punch-up one day, but at the moment it’s competitive but friendly.”

Scooters with completely flat batteries can be picked up at any time. But after 9pm, any scooter that’s only partially charged can be picked up. “That’s when it’s all on. The app lights up like a Christmas tree,” Will says.

He says he averages six or seven scooters an evening.

The toughest part is when another juicer beats him to a scooter. It’s a close race “an amazing amount of the time”, he says.

Recently he drove from his Orakei Basin home, zeroing in on a scooter left at the Devonport wharf. But just as he had it in sight, another juicer pulled up and grabbed it.

“It was a 40-minute round trip for nothing.”

A juicer has to charge a scooter at their own home. Lime tells them a charge, which takes around four hours, will add around 68c, depending on their electricity plan. Juicers bear the cost.

Charged bikes have to be dropped off at designated “serving” points – typically the footpath near a bus stop – before 7am.

Will sets his alarm to 5.15am to ensure he can drop off scooters at serving points near his home. Only four scooters can be left at each point. If Will sleeps in, he has to drive around looking for serving points with one or more free slots.

$30 an hour

Scooters have to be placed a foot apart, with handlebars turned to the left. A juicer must take a smartphone pic of their handiwork before they get paid.

Balmoral-based Mailley says the trick is to drive around in loops in a tight geographical area, and to grab as many scooters as possible in one trip in his hatchback, although he plans to co-opt his father’s van. One NewstalkZB listener reports seeing a diesel-belching truck collecting Lime scooters en masse – not quite in keeping with the company’s green image.

Mailley has 12 Lime chargers at home (the maximum the company will allow). He says his record for one session, of around four hours, was collecting 17 scooters (equating to roughly $30 an hour). When the Herald spoke to him on a Wednesday evening, he had already collected and recharged 60 scooters for the week, earning about $450.

Will laments that the Lime incentive scheme in the US, which gives a US$150 ($230) bonus for signing up a friend as a juicer and collecting a set amount of scooters within a target timeframe, has not made to New Zealand.

After being beaten to the punch by rival juicers nabbing bikes as he parks his station wagon, Will has taken bringing his brother along to ride shotgun. It’s a much more effective system to have someone ready to immediately spring out of the car and grab a scooter – but it also means half the money to go around.

Tax responsibility

Lime seems to run things with a light touch. Mailley says he signed up online, supplying his driver’s licence details.

He was then invited to a briefing at Lime’s Auckland headquarters (an unmarked warehouse in Kingsland). Container loads of new Lime scooters were being unwrapped in the background. Mailley says no record was kept of who was taking how many chargers, which were handed out free. He initially took eight but then thought “what the heck” and grabbed another four.

The juicers at Mailley’s briefing session were told paying tax was their responsibility.

As an archetypal “gig economy” citizen – he already juggles work as a musician, wedding photographer and real estate photographer amid his studies – Mailley says he’s used to taking responsibility for organising his own tax payments as a casual contractor. But he wonders if others will be clued-up.

The student has refined his technique. He now collects a batch of scooters early in the afternoon, so he can do at least one drop-off before the 9pm

Will fears the money is too good. He’s anticipating they’ll be more juicers signing up as word spreads about the money in harvesting.

Though on the plus side, he notes that Onzo is about to release up to 2500 e-scooters for hire in Auckland on November 10, swamping the 600 from Lime, and another 500 are on the way from a third contender, Wave, on November 30 – so they’ll soon me a lot more work to go around.

Lime did not immediately respond to a query about how many juicers are currently on its books in Auckland and Christchurch.

– New Zealand Herald

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