Bike-Sharing in Berlin

Since we’re talking about urban bike-sharing today, it’s worth taking a quick look at Germany’s Call-a-Bike program. The remarkable thing about this system is that you don’t even need to leave the bicycles in a set parking spot. Using your cell phone you call the phone number on the side of the bike, a magic ray beam shoots out of the sky an unlocks the bicycle’s rear wheel (I may not have the technological details correct there), and when you’re done riding you call the number to close your transaction and leave the bike standing at any street corner in the city. It costs 6 cents per minute. Call-a-Bike is run by the Die Bahn, the German national transportation agency.

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Photos: Aaron Naparstek, Berlin, March 2004

  • Louis

    I was in Berlin back in 2005, and I saw one of these bikes parked outside of a subway station. I saw the DB, and figured it was an employee bike to work scheme, for Die Bahn employees (the national railway system). Die Bahn is German for “The Way.” Anyway, I had no idea that this was what these bikes were. What a great idea. But, then again, the Germans had everything else down to a science as well.

    Thanks for the photos!

  • Steve

    Is that a child seat on the back of the bike or a futuristic cargo rack?

  • Dormer

    “Is that a child seat on the back of the bike or a futuristic cargo rack?”

    Rack, I think. Looks like there are bungee cords at the base of the curved part.

  • jmc

    These aren’t just in Berlin, they’re also in Frankfurt.

  • Ian D

    Aaron – if you were looking for info about Deutsche Bahn’s Call-A-Bike, you should have let me know! I use it all the time!

    The program has recently been expanded beyond Berlin and Munich, where it was initially started, and as someone else mentioned, now includes Frankfurt (and I saw the bikes deployed in Cologne when I was there last month). Another change: the price has been increased to €0.08/min.

    This is part of DB’s plan to cast itself as Germany’s comprehensive tranport provider. Unlike the shared bike programs in most other cities, the DB bikes are supposed to be self-supporting or even profitable. Also, the DB bikes are quality, if heavy, bikes, as opposed to the mini-size single-speeder I was cruising around Copenhagen with last weekend!

    And as you mentioned, another big difference is that there is no physical location, such as a rack, from which the bikes are dispatched or returned. That might be a benefit in NYC where there is very little available space for racks, but it could also be problematic if pedestrians are faced with haphazardly-parked bikes.

  • Hunter

    Writing from Frankfurt here: it’s not Die Bahn but Deutsche Bahn, the German equivalant of Amtrak (of course a bit fifty times larger and superior than its American counterpart).

    The bikes cost 5 Euros an hour with a maximum of 15 Euros per day. You can only use them in fairly central Frankfurt but they may increase the area later.

    You have to call them up both when picking up a bike (to a code to unlock them) and when leaving the bike (to inform of location and to have them stop billing you). They charge your credit card automatically for the use of the bikes.

  • Hunter

    Writing from Frankfurt here: it’s not Die Bahn but Deutsche Bahn, the German equivalant of Amtrak (of course a bit fifty times larger and superior than its American counterpart).

    The bikes cost 5 Euros an hour with a maximum of 15 Euros per day. You can only use them in fairly central Frankfurt but they may increase the area later.

    You have to call them up both when picking up a bike (to get a code to unlock them) and when leaving the bike (to inform of location and to have them stop billing you). They charge your credit card automatically for the use of the bikes.

  • Serena

    I went to the European Cyclist Federation’s Velo-city conference in Munich last month, and Call-A-Bikes were provided to all conference participants. They were a great way for us to get around Munich and experience urban bike sharing. There are pictures of the bikes at the conference here: http://www.velo-city2007.com/index.php?id=167
    And yeah, that’s a rack in the back with bungee cords so you can strap your stuff down securely. I hope a program like this comes to NYC soon.

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