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Notes from Berlin
An ecosystem of shared mobility
Returning to Berlin after a six year absence, it’s amazing both how much has changed and how even more has stayed the same. The city is truly one of the world’s great transit cities, but when it comes to the curb, there’s room for improvement. The bustling metropolis’ great startup scene is helping solve some problems, but there are areas where smarter policy would do well too. While I’ll treat you to a photo essay of street scenes below, first a few more thoughts…
Micromobility has taken off in the German capital in a huge way, with an ecosystem of interesting small devices that makes American micromobility seem staid by comparison. While the city has long had some shared larger-scale mobility, this is a marked change from say 2017, when your single option was essentially the appetizingly named Donkey Republic dockless bikeshare program.
If you want to pick up a shared bike or scooter, you can choose from Bird, Bolt, Tier, Voi, Nextbike and more. But beyond those standard vehicles, there are also specialty providers like Cargaroo, letting Berliners rent cargo bikes with a huge front scoop for hauling items (or perhaps transporting your tipsy friends to the next club.)
And while carsharing is basically on life support in the U.S. (college campuses notwithstanding) it’s absolutely thriving in Germany. You’ve got WeShare, Share Now, Sixt Share, Miles, Cambio, Bolt and Flinkster (although it looks like Miles may be in trouble for forgetting to pay a few million in taxes and fees, whoops…) If you’d prefer a moped there’s Felyx, Tier, and Emmy. If those aren’t enough goofy names for you, the city also hosts a proud startup scene that’s birthed concepts like Delivery Hero, Hello Fresh and The Drivery.
Given the struggles of shared mobility in the U.S. it seems like the problem is that while America has some good transit cities as well as some pleasant biking cities, Berlin combines both those attributes in a way that is hard to find on the other side of the Atlantic. Hopping on a moped or shared bike works great as a “sometimes” solution when you can otherwise rely on a vast network of trains to get you to further distances, and also when you don’t fear you’re going to get run over on an oversized road.
This isn’t to say that Berlin is perfect, in fact there are a few things it might want to borrow from Americans. For starters, while the train network is vast, the national network’s reliability has deteriorated significantly recently. And while the federal government has introduced a discounted monthly pass, less frequent subway commuters have to deal with absurdly high ticket prices: 3,20€ in the inner city, 4€ if you’re riding in from the burbs. That feels all the higher when you consider that average incomes in Berlin are actually rather low. Maybe some fare capping is in order?
And at the literal curb level, there’s room for improvement too. While the city has long had a nice base level of lively curb uses like outdoor dining (what European city doesn’t?) it failed to expand on that much during the pandemic. Far too much of the city’s curbside street space is dedicated to storing cars: it’s totally whiffed the opportunity to take some back for commerce / additional dining areas, or for PUDU zones (especially egregious given the surge in food delivery courier traffic.) And even ancient basics like parking meters are essentially non-existent citywide.
The city is also doing something basically unthinkable in any other urban area (besides Texas) — it’s constructing a new urban freeway. The government is tearing down iconic clubs and historic structures to build a new route for the A100 through the heart of the city. How do you say “time for your own freeway revolt” in German?
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- Jonah Bliss & The Curbivore Crew