Ralf Kalupner, founder and CEO of nextbike GmbH, about future trends and challenges in the area of public bike-sharing systems.
GPSM: Could you briefly describe nextbike and the main activities in the field of mobility and logistics?
nextbike develops, builds and operates public bike-sharing systems. Currently, you can rent our bikes in 14 countries and more than 80 cities worldwide. Our goal is to give everyone an easy access to bicycles and to provide a convenient solution for the first and the last mile. However, there is not the one bike-sharing solution which fits for every place in the world. Since we do everything in-house we can react flexible to the different needs of all our customers. Our bicycles and all other infrastructure materials are built in the nextbike production facility in Leipzig. The IT-development and the entire back-office system are located in Leipzig, too. We offer quality “Made in Germany” for the world. Since more than 10 years we focus exclusively on bike-sharing. Thus we consider ourselves as bike-sharing experts.
GPSM: How do you define sustainability in your own work?
nextbike follows a holistic approach on sustainability. At first, we want our systems to be economical sustainable. Therefore, we always aim at spreading the initial costs of establishing a bike-sharing system on several shoulders in order to minimize the burden for each party. The operational costs are covered by generating user fees, advertising on our bicycles and through general agreements (e.g. with universities or businesses). In this way we can operate our systems nearly self-sustaining.
Secondly, we look at the ecological pillar. In this regard we are inherently very well positioned since we are selling a product which has the potential to make a transport system more sustainable and resilient. By making bicycles publicly available and rentable in an easy way we contribute to a better accessibility of the public transport system. Consequently, bike-sharing makes public transport more attractive and reduces the dependence on the privately owned car.
Lastly, we care about the social aspect of sustainability by promoting cycling which evidently contributes to better public health conditions and to more livability. Furthermore, public bike-sharing systems are ideally part of an integral cycling strategy. Let’s take Budapest as an example: The installation of our bike sharing system “Bubi” came along with a significant extension of the cycle lane network and other infrastructure measures promoting cycling. In this way, bike-sharing combined with other measures help to allocate more public space for environmentally friendly forms of transport such as bicycles, pedelecs and cargo bikes.
Additionally, by producing regional and developing in-house we can control our production chain and ensure that our labor force and the environment are well taken care of.
GPSM: What trends and developments are you facing in your work field?
The future of transportation is digitally connected. The user wants full information in real time about mobility options and he/she does not want to buy several tickets or register for each option separately. Therefore, bike-sharing the same as other new forms of mobility have to be fully integrated into existing public transport networks and information systems. As a user, I want to see in the bus if there are (and if yes, how many) bicycles available at the next bus stop. Also I want to be able to use the bicycles with the ticket that allowed me to use the bus. We are ready to do all of this. Our new smart-bikes are compatible with all RFID-Cards and all smartphones supporting e-purchase via NFC-Technology. Still, you will always be able to rent our bikes via phone or app. Besides this we see that there is the demand for other types of bicycles in public bike-sharing systems and we will of course react to that.
GPSM: Which challenges/hurdles do you recognize while working towards sustainable mobility?
It is obvious that our current transportation system is not sustainable. Hence, the challenges we face in the future will put a significant pressure on this system. We will face increasing traffic problems in metropolitan areas, resource scarcity and rising pollution levels. Challenges we see in changing the status quo of the transportation system are outdated mindsets among politicians and planners as well as the lack of will to integrate new forms of mobility due to a fear cannibalization. However, there are already many modern cities and transport authorities with brilliant ideas in order to tackle the transport related problems. Thinking intermodal is the way to go.
GPSM: What are your next activities / projects in international cooperation?
Soon, nextbike will launch several projects in Germany and the USA. Also, we are in talks with the GIZ to start a bike-sharing system as a project of international cooperation in Ukraine. Furthermore, we are about to bring our sustainable mobility option to India and other countries dealing with significant Transport Problems.