Urban mobility and technology is an area that has seen rapid development over the last few years. On the world stage, Uber led the charge in 2009, whilst in London, the now ubiquitous Boris bike helped get more of us cycling across the city. Jump forward to present day and now multiple well-funded players operate in this space. Dockless bikes, e-scooters and carsharing all play a role in the modern city.
In 2016, an estimated 54.5% of the world’s population lived in cities. By 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60% of people globally and one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants. This huge increase in urban populations puts both housing and mobility front and centre for any urban planner. A blend of public and private transports solutions will be required to keep city-dwellers moving.
So what are the transportation options available for the city dweller? I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days in Berlin and was blown away by the effectiveness and affordability of the cities transportation system. I cannot think of any city I have travelled to that has such a myriad of mobility options to choose from, technology going hand in hand to support the experience.
Germany is still very much a country that has a love affair with the automobile, but for someone living in central Berlin, it feels like you could hang up those BMW keys for good. That said, the ecosystem Berlin is building to support the electric car is impressive. The city is getting an e-mobility upgrade this year, with a new project underway to install more than 1,600 EV charge points in the streets of the German capital.
Riding the asphalt wave of e-mobility and carsharing, The Volkswagen Group now has a strong foothold in this sector with its e-carsharing brand WeShare. With over 1,500 e-Golfs across the city, you are never far away from one of their cars. Unlike other carshare platforms, the WeShare fleet is exclusively electric, with the e-up being added to the line-up next year. The other great thing is that the platform is completely “free-floating”, meaning that there are no fixed collection points where cars have to be taken and returned, offering users complete freedom to explore the city. With pricing currently at €0.19 per minute, a 30-minute ride will cost you €5.70. Of course, WeShare is not the only operator. Miles, Car2Go and SIXTshare all offer similar platforms. Whether you fancy exploring the city in a Smart car or a Mercedes saloon, you can find a vehicle that matches your budget and requirements. As you can probably tell, we are big fans of WeShare, from a user experience standpoint it is also worth pointing out that we felt they offered the best in-app experience.
From four wheels to two, dockless bikes are now a common site across most big cities. Things are no different in Berlin, with a blend of peddle and assisted peddle options to choose from. Bikes offer by far the most cost-effective mode of transport to explore Berlin. Streets are wide and often have dedicated cycle lanes, meaning you can peddle relatively safely whilst you dream about the next currywurst stand you might discover. All the usual operators are present, MoBike, Lime and Jump to name but a few. Supermarket Lidl also offers its own dockless bike solution, the only downside is you have to phone up a call centre to book your bike, not the best user experience when your competitors are all exclusively app based. Much has been saying recently of “last mile” travel, that walk from the train station to the office/home. For the time-poor commuter dockless bikes offer by far the best solution to that last mile, winning you back a bit more time every day (you don’t need to worry about hitting that snooze button again!).
Sticking with two wheels, e-scooters have been catching a lot of press recently, both positive and negative. Following fierce debate over road safety and the impact on traffic, Germany’s upper house of parliament (the Bundesrat) adopted a proposal pushed forward by Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer to approve the “electric propulsion vehicles” for road use. Love them or hate them, by mid-June, the Berlin streets and pavements had already started to fill up with e-scooters.
Whilst e-scooters are not the most affordable travel option, they are a hell of a lot of fun. We cruised effortlessly on our Tier scooters through Mitte at speeds of up to 20km/h, moving swiftly from one landmark to the next. San Francisco based Lime offers by far the best coverage in the City, anywhere within the S-Bahn ring is within their zone. Coverage from the other providers, whilst good, is not as far ranging. Pricing wise, Tier, Lime, Circ, Voi and Wind are all similar, €1.00 to unlock and then €0.15 per minute thereafter. As with dockless bikes, the big issue with scooters is they can be left almost anywhere, convenient for the rider, not so much for pedestrians and other road users.
In between bikes, automobiles and scooters, we also had the opportunity to attend an awesome event focused on the future of mobility. PEM Motion, an exciting business based out of Aachen, were our hosts at Factory Berlin for the evening. PEM’s experience is firmly rooted in electric mobility, working with a number of start-ups to develop e-mobility hardware. By leaning on their engineering pedigree, PEM takes on the heavy-lift of developing new mobility solutions, dramatically reducing risk and time to market for their partners and clients. If you are building a business operating in this space, I wholeheartedly recommended that you get in touch with the team at PEM Motion. One of the standouts from their portfolio was a product called Ducktrain. Ducktrain has built an autonomous guided vehicle system or AGV that enables logistics businesses to move parcels across cities or manufacturers to move large items from one end of a production line to another. Think of it as a mother duck, being followed by her “load” carrying ducklings. Whilst drones are often hailed as the disruptive parcel delivery vehicle of the future, I feel that Ducktrain has a much more viable urban solution, potentially even acting as mobile Amazon style pick-up lockers, autonomously moving from one location to the next.
All of this new technology and innovation is great, but public transport still has a huge part to play in city life. To this end, Berlin continues to impress. Using Facebook Messenger, we easily purchased two 24hr travel passes to use across trams, buses, trains and the U-Bahn (the underground train network), all this for the princely sum of €7.00 each. All were super efficient and surprisingly quiet, even at peak times. Unlike the tube in London, we enjoyed full 4G coverage underground and also the luxury of air-conditioning, useful when the temperature outside was reaching 37 degrees. The central train station, Hauptbahnhof was a destination in its own right, a blend of huge shopping mall and transportation hub, with the added benefit of killer views across to the Reichstag.
Whilst not without its challenges, the future of mobility is an exciting one. The technology is certainly there, the legislation and infrastructure at a government level perhaps being a potential blocker for mass adoption of new technologies. Surprisingly Berlin does not make the top ten list of cities adopting new forms of mobility, the number one spot goes to San Francisco, closely followed by Singapore. Back in the UK, we can be proud that London makes it to number five with Manchester in the eighth spot. The future is indeed bright, a bright green Lime e-scooter!
Have you been to Berlin recently? Feel free to get in contact and let us know. Hit us up on email, social media and all the usual touch points 😀