Whether bringing children to school or transporting the next big purchase: cargo bikes are becoming more and more established in Germany. In addition to start-ups, many cities now also want to promote the "rental cargo bike" project. However, there is still some catching up to do in rural areas.
They are operated with muscle or electric power, they have a large transport area, and they often have unusual names like "Knight's Carriage" or "Wilde Hilde": Rental cargo bikes can be seen again and again on the streets of German cities. Such as the more than 200 e-cargo bikes from the start-up Avocargo in Berlin. The young company was founded in spring 2021 - and now wants to expand its range to 40,000 electric transport bikes in other cities in the coming years.
Because the market is growing and will definitely continue to do so in the future, believes Avocargo co-founder Matti Schurr in Berlin. "Cargo bikes are very much an urban phenomenon at the moment". Using an app, people can borrow the means of transport for a fee around the clock and park it anywhere in a specified area. According to the Zweirad-Industrie-Verband (ZIV), the number of cargo bikes sold last year rose to almost 170,000 (2020: 103,200).
But not only commercial providers like Avocargo, but also the company Sigo from Darmstadt or numerous free initiatives want to promote the project "rental cargo bike". The municipalities themselves are also becoming more and more interested in the alternative means of transport, says Marco Walter from the "Transportrad Initiative Nachnachhaltiger Municipalities" (TINK). The company advises cities and municipalities that want to put cargo bikes on the streets and helps with tenders. "The trend is clearly pointing upwards," says Walter.
32 municipalities are currently being advised, including Hanover and Dortmund, for example. 25 municipalities exchange ideas in a TINK network, which is supported by the Federal Ministry of Transport. It grew by 28 percent in the first half of this year compared to 2021. "Cargo bike sharing has proven to be an effective contribution to the municipal traffic turnaround," says Walter. Cities would make progress on several political goals, such as climate protection or traffic relief.
Only recently did the city of Cologne declare its intention to become the "cargo bike capital" and announced a two-year pilot project for a rental system. According to Walter, the bikes from the Sigo company are currently being tried out in Lindau, Bavaria, and a regional bike dealer is taking over the business in Constance in Baden-Württemberg. And the bike rental company Nextbike also offers the means of transport in ten cities, with three more municipalities being planned.
The examples show that local authorities have an interest in making their cities more attractive, says Arne Behrensen, Managing Director of cargobike.jetzt - an agency and project developer for the promotion of cargo bikes. Transport bikes have great potential to replace car journeys in the long term. Schurr from Avocargo agrees: Many users use their bikes to do trips that they would otherwise take by car - for example, the weekly shop. A beekeeper in Berlin regularly transports his beehives, and some also place furniture on the transport area.
"We have to get to the point where cargo bikes are mainstream in the end," says Schurr. Especially in rural areas, the car is still more common in everyday life - because there the distances for transport are usually longer, which speaks for the car. So far, cargo bikes have been a phenomenon of cities.
Especially in the countryside and in smaller towns, numerous free initiatives therefore want to give more impetus to their offers. The cargo bike has become particularly well-known through such local and voluntary networks that have come together across Germany in the "Free Cargo Bike Forum" (FFL). Are they now being replaced by commercial providers? "On the contrary," says Peter Eckhoff from the FFL. "We are happy about every cargo bike that replaces car journeys".
Despite the commercialization, the forum expects that free cargo bikes in smaller towns and in the countryside will often remain the only offer - and start-ups are more likely to cavort in big cities. In addition, the user groups are sometimes different: while people can quickly book a bike from the company via an app, personal exchange is particularly important in the case of voluntary initiatives: people first have to borrow the cargo bike at certain locations, where employees still have them, for example explain the vehicle. This is important for some users, says Eckhoff. So you complement each other well.