Electric car scheme fizzles out

Emma Morrison, a Waiheke Island resident who uses Cityhop.
PETER MEECHAM/FAIRFAX NZ

Emma Morrison, a Waiheke Island resident who uses Cityhop.

 

Auckland Transport has pulled the plug on plans for an electric car share scheme for the city.

The project could have taken hundreds of cars off the road every day - but the agency tasked with the tender rejected every single applicant.

Auckland Transport's failed tender equals "12 months of lost opportunity" for Cityhop owner Victoria Carter.
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Auckland Transport's failed tender equals "12 months of lost opportunity" for Cityhop owner Victoria Carter.

AT had hoped to secure a company that would provide up to 300 congestion-busting Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs), using 350 charging stations.

It was thought an electric car fleet would help "transform" Auckland's transport options while cutting carbon emissions.

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And there was plenty of interest. 

Nine parties submitted to the tender process - but only two were shortlisted and in the end, all of them were turned down - including Auckland's only existing car sharing firm, Cityhop.

Cityhop owner and founder Victoria Carter said Auckland Transport's drawn-out tender process not only hurt her company, but expected too much from tenderers.

"It's 12 months of lost opportunity when we could be getting people out of their cars," she said.

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Several large businesses wouldn't commit to subscribing to her service, taking a 'wait and see' approach anticipating AT's much bigger scheme, she said.

Cityhop is small - a fleet of just 30 cars - but it's proved popular among commuters.

Waiheke Island resident Emma Morrison said she couldn't run her business without the service.

Morrison, a public-relations company owner, has been using the car share when she ferries into Auckland's CBD several times a week to meet with clients.

She said it would be "mad" to own a car for just "three or four meetings in three or four hours" before sailing back to Waiheke to collect her daughter from kindergarten.

"I don't know why anybody would bring their car into the city unless they needed to."

But it's a petrol-fuelled fleet, and that didn't meet AT's requirement that suppliers "contributed to the uptake of electric vehicles."

AT's strategic development group manager Chris Morgan said none of the nine companies met all three of AT's minimum requirements - which also included supporting the 'last mile' of journeys to and from public transport, and working in with those who walk or cycle.

"For instance some suppliers came with a heap of electric vehicles and met our 'last mile' objectives but required a subsidy from AT, some suppliers didn't require a subsidy but they struggled with [supplying] electric vehicles," Morgan said.

Auckland Transport's goal of between 200 and 300 electric cars was "aspirational" and it was expected the successful bidder would roll-out the number of vehicles it considered "commercially viable" over time, he said.

The agency had hoped to lure tenders from overseas companies like those running electric car share schemes in Paris, and Indianapolis - but Morgan "wouldn't comment" on whether large, international car sharing operators like Autolib or Zipcar tendered.

Going all-electric would be too costly for Cityhop, Carter said.

Rather than go immediately all-electric, AT should have settled for a fleet of conventional petrol powered cars, like Cityhop's Toyota sedans and hatchbacks, she said.

Public transport advocate Patrick Reynolds agrees.

"Incremental would have been the way to do it, especially from a financial point of view."

The Transport Blog contributor welcomed AT's plans last year, but this week said favouring an all-electric fleet was "short-sighted" if the city wanted to grow car sharing.

"We want to aim for an all-electric car share, but it's more important to get a functioning car share scheme."

An International Carsharing Association Australian study showed every car share vehicle took 10 private vehicles off Sydney roads.

But even providing affordable electric vehicles for companies and consumers has just become harder.

Nissan recently pulled its $40,000 electric Leaf sedan from sale on the New Zealand market, citing its retail price as unsustainable.

For now, it looks like lights out for AT's electric car sharing scheme - Morgan said there are no immediate plans to revisit the tender.

 - Sunday Star Times

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