Mobility blues

Shared bikes take over Berlin

bike-sharing, german, berlin, mobike, ofo
Man down! Source: DPA

Anyone walking the streets of the German capital Berlin in the past six months has likely noticed the dwindling space for pedestrians.

The number of shared bikes has risen by 75 percent since last year, and last week China’s biggest bike-sharing company, ofo, released 2,000 bicycles onto the streets of Berlin, bringing the total of shared bicycles in the capital to more than 18,000 from eight companies, per Handelsblatt research. German cities were bracing for the influx of Chinese bicycles since last fall.

Since most bike-sharing companies embrace a dockless concept, random corners around the city are now cluttered with neon green, yellow, orange and silver bikes. For people who only occasionally want to ride a bike, the system makes sense: Find a bike with the app, reserve it, and then leave it at your destination for the next rider.

But Germany already has the highest rate of bicycle ownership in the world. Eighty percent of households have them, according to 2015 Pew data. Local newspapers have also reported the bicycles from Asia aren’t large enough for tall Europeans.

Mobike said it is the “largest bike sharing provider in Berlin” but declined to say exactly how many they’ve released upon the city. NextBike confirmed it has 5,000 bicycles in the city, branded by music streaming service Deezer, so it can be assumed Mobike has at least 5,000 cycles here. The 3,500 velocipedes from Call-A-Bike, owned by Deutsche Bahn, are branded by discount grocer Lidl. Limebike’s current total of 1,000 includes e-bikes.

03 Shared bikes in Berlin V2-01

Tagesspiegel reports ofo and Mobike each aim to increase their Berlin fleets to 10,000 bicycles — that would bring the total to more than 30,000 shared bikes. After false starts in London and Munich, the Asian startups realized that city officials don’t like to be surprised by sudden airdrops of bicycles. Officials in Berlin, surprised by the interest from bike-sharing companies, are now discussing instituting stricter rules for shared bikes.

Ofo’s German general manager Alex Cappy says the company is better prepared for the Berlin market than its competitors. She arrived in February from London, where she had worked for startups including Uber and Deliveroo. Ofo’s latest round of funding brought in $886 million, bringing its total to $2.2 billion; the company now has more than 10 million bikes worldwide, just 120,000 of those are outside China.

Yet it doesn’t always work out as planned. Last month, Singaporean company oBike took back nearly 6,000 of its 6,800 bicycles in Munich — many had been damaged by vandals and left in piles in parks.

Stephan Scheuer contributed to this report. Grace Dobush is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: grace.dobush@gmail.com

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