Berlin has for a number of years been one of the world’s leading cities for innovation and, in particular, mobility innovation

BVG has done a partnership deal with operator ViaVan to operate a joint service


I have visited Berlin a number of times over the years, but it was interesting to reflect on the current state of the city’s mobility landscape. As the largest city in Germany, Berlin has long been one of the leading cities for innovation and, in particular, mobility innovation. Car sharing services Car2go and DriveNow have both been leading players in the city for a number of years as have numerous other innovators. Along with other leading European and global cities such as Paris and London, much is continuing to occur in the city in terms of mobility.

Berlin’s history as a divided city and renewed capital of Germany has led to a large need for transport system rebuilding and development over the last 25 years. The scale of infrastructure reconstruction has been immense and continues. The public transport system has not been extensively expanded in coverage but the quality of the infrastructure has significantly improved. Expansion of the overall network coverage is now finally underway including U-Bahn expansion and further extension of the tram network to the western side of the city.

New mobility solutions without a robust base of public transport do not provide a robust framework on which to encourage long term consideration of alternatives to private car use.

Fundamentally however, Berlin has an extensive, frequent and high quality public transport system that offers much of what would be expected by many leading European cities. The system also seems to be adopting the latest key trends in user experience via technology. Public transport is also relatively inexpensive to the user. All of these characteristics are a critical base on which to then build a new mobility eco-system. New mobility solutions without a robust base of public transport do not provide a robust framework on which to encourage long term consideration of alternatives to private car use. As an extreme case, consider some of the suburban and low density situations in the United States where ride sharing may challenge some private car use, but is unlikely to offer universal and affordable mobility at scale.

Berlin also has inherited an interesting urban form – in terms of European cities. It has many of the characteristics of a typical European city. It contains large areas of 18th and 19th century row houses, in this case typically five to six floors high, lining city streets with interior courtyards offering some limited parking, service access as well as green space. This is typical of what is seen in a Spanish city such as Barcelona, but at a higher density than the typical residential terrace houses seen in a UK city such as London. The city also has developed relatively wide streets and, importantly, spacious pavements. Many of these residential areas have also developed, in a modern context, with on-street communal parking for local residents. The urbanised form thus, supports density, has on-street room for pedestrians and now cycle lanes, and it offers some space for traditional car parking, but also for new shared car services as well as cycle parking and new micro-mobility devices.

I would argue that this is all a result of an element of luck in how the city has been developed over hundreds of years and particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This streetscape seems to offer a stability of space for the current range of mobility innovations. In particular, it is much more spacious than the urban environment seen in a city such as Paris or Brussels, where on-pavement provision for new mobility solutions along with supporting general road traffic and walking and cycling creates substantial congestion and conflict for almost all other users of the street.

The urban street design in Berlin is particularly interesting for shared car opportunities. The widespread use of on-street communal parking throughout the city and general provision of pavement/street-side space although much of this is used by private cars – offers the ability to have a number of shared car operators in the city and these services appear frequently amongst otherwise private parked cars. This presents shared cars as a very obvious comparator with the private car market and certainly stimulates consideration of the option. Moreover, even with the recent merging of Daimler’s Car2go and BMW’s DriveNow as ShareNow, there are still a range of other shared car operators in the Berlin market such as Ubeeqo offering choice to the user and delivering an open mobility marketplace with consumer choice and availability.

Like most German cities the classic taxi is still very widespread. They are available at numerous taxi ranks and can be hailed on street. Berlin is one of the four German cities in which Uber operates. However, unlike in many global cities, this business operates with professional drivers. Berlin is also interesting in that the local public transport operator BVG has done a partnership deal with small vehicle transport operator ViaVan to operate a joint service covering parts of the city. The service is very visible in many parts of the city. Clever Shuttle, amongst other operators also has a shared vehicle service in the city.

Overall, this range of private and shared taxi services provides quite a range of options for travellers, along with the previously mentioned robust public transport service.

As in many German cities, cycling is a very popular transport option and is very prevalent across the city, while not at the increasingly problematic and overwhelming levels seen in, for example, Dutch cities such as Amsterdam or Utrecht. It is however, importantly matched with substantial cycling infrastructure through cycle lanes and on-street parking facilities. Again, the city’s design inherently offers a substantial amount of on-street space for cycling infrastructure – both as cycle lanes and parking. For much of the travel within the city, cycle lanes can be provided on the pavement adjacent to the roadway.

Importantly, for new mobility development Berlin has a wide range of cycle sharing schemes including recently launched Jump e-bikes from Uber as well as Nextbike – originally from Leipzig and Lime bikes as well as the new Swapfiets cycle leasing service amongst many operators. Many of the city’s hotels also offer rental bikes for guests or general visitors. This service is very obvious and most of these hotels display these bikes in public places on the pavement.

Berlin has managed to develop a diverse range of private cycle use, on-street shared schemes, e-bikes and traditional cycles as well as locationally based rental schemes.

Again, Berlin has managed to develop a diverse range of private cycle use, on-street shared schemes, e-bikes and traditional cycles as well as locationally based rental schemes. This diversity provides choice, widespread availability and it is matched by good quality and pervasive on-street cycle infrastructure. Cycling is a clearly viable mobility option without overly dominating the streetscape.

E-scooters and other electronic micro-mobility devices are clearly visible in Berlin, but are currently illegal. However, the German government is in the process of changing the law to enable such services to operate. It is expected that e-scooter schemes, in particular, will be widely promoted and adopted after this legal change occurs.

The most important element in this overview of mobility in Berlin is not that the city authorities have perfected the elements and range of new mobility, but that due to some degree of historic luck in the development and design of the city, a degree of street level space is available to support and deliver a range of mobility services while still offering typically European urban density and design. The Berlin local authorities have been very successful in developing and continuing investment in an effective and comprehensive public transport network. Layered on top of this is a robust eco-system of new mobility options including shared cars, classic taxis, shared vans and a range of cycle options. Each of these new mobility options tends to work relatively effectively in the urban landscape without causing the street level chaos or congestion so often seen in other cities as they grapple with the emerging range of new mobility trends.

Whether well-planned or a fortunate coincidence, Berlin is perhaps making a diverse new mobility eco-system work quite well!

About the author:

Giles K Bailey is a Director at Stratageeb, a London based consultancy assisting businesses think about their strategic vision and innovation. Previously, he had spent nine years as Head of Marketing Strategy at Transport for London.

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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