Gig-economy an easy choice for Aucklander who gets paid to 'juice' Lime scooters

The chance to scamper about Auckland’s darkened CBD on the hunt for Lime scooters to "juice" made stepping into the gig-economy an easy choice for inner-city dweller Jamie.

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Trading job security for flexibility, we look at how Lime ‘juicers’ are at the forefront of New Zealand’s evolving work culture. Source: 1 NEWS

"This is absolute freedom," he says as he glides out of the gloom with two more scooters to charge overnight in his upstairs apartment.

In his early twenties, Jamie is part of an expanding workforce that’s cast away the traditional workplace for a side hustle set-up that’s providing ready cash on the back of tech-based services like Lime scooter rentals and its rival Wave.

Jamie says he can easily make enough money re-charging scooters to pay for his rent. Source: 1 NEWS

"Technology is rapidly changing the employment landscape… not just in New Zealand but around the world," says Christchurch based business consultant Roger Dennis.

"What we’re seeing is this gradual transition around the nature of work, the nature of working for one company for a lifetime - into something where people have many, many different jobs. I don’t think that’s going to change in a hurry, I think that’s going to accelerate," he told 1 NEWS.

In Jamie’s case, he’s contracted as a Lime Juicer, a person who collects Lime scooters and re-charges them overnight. He claims collecting just five scooters a night allows him to cover his rent for up to a week, earning up to $35.00 an hour. Lime says it costs approximately $0.20 to $0.60 NZD, to charge a scooter to full capacity.

When Lime started their operations in Auckland and Christchurch in October last year, they hired 50 local "operations specialists", and secured contract based "juicers" to undertake re-charging responsibilities. Since then, employment through Lime’s app-based system has become a popular choice for approximately 250 Kiwis because of the flexibility it allows workers.

Daytime harvesting brings greater competition among Juicers. Source: 1 NEWS

Jamie admits that competition between Juicers does exist, jokingly claiming his patch, "Yeah, we own a monopoly on the area, this is our street, so don’t come to Mount Street other Juicers".

Public Affairs Manager for Lime NZ, Lauren Mentjox, says "We encourage our Juicers to be safe and courteous when harvesting [scooters]. We urge all Juicers to always report any issues or irresponsible behaviour to their local Lime team and we will immediately address".

A counterpoint to Jamie’s night-time antics is fellow Aucklander, Paul. He’s taking advantage of daylight hours, darting from loading zone to loading zone as he fills a trailer and roof-rack with up to 25 scooters.

"There’s a lot of competition, yeah," he says.

The harvesting challenges are clearly at play as Paul returns empty handed from a Queen Street arcade, despite his app indicating a low-battery scooter needing some "juice".

In February this year Lime scooters were ordered off the streets following a range of safety concerns. Their nearly two-week hiatus hit Juicers hard in the pocket, leaving Jamie looking for work before he burnt through his savings.

Paul was feeling more confident despite the lull in Juicing work. "My income’s probably halved at the moment - what it was last week," he said. He’s optimistic that he’ll find more work easily, as Lime isn’t the only company of its type in New Zealand.

Paul can harvest up to twenty five Lime Scooters a day. Source: 1 NEWS

Questioned about income security for their Juicers, Lime said in a statement, "Juicers are independent contractors and make the decision to harvest each day based on their personal circumstances. Being a Juicer offers flexibility to an individual and allows for them to have ownership over their earnings".

The gig-economy 'divides and conquers' says Mr Dennis, "it leaves workers vulnerable to cuts in their wages that they have no control over."

Experts agree that policy makers are struggling to respond at the pace needed to develop a proper regulatory framework for these operators. But as Limes growth shows, there are plenty of people who are comfortable engaging in the flexibility offered, and unconcerned with the lack of regulation or safety nets within the gig-economy.

"We’re in a time of what some historians call 'accelerated history', where the speed of change is moving much faster than ever before," says Mr Dennis.

"It’s extremely difficult to tell what is going to be ahead with any certainty. However, what you can tell also from history, when you look back a long-time frame, is that it’s almost certain that humanity will be better off in the future then it is now".

By James Hope