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“The eCargo bike makes people smile”

Foto: Simon Tanner
Foto: Simon Tanner

Jörg Beckmann is one of the inventors of the carvelo2go project, which started in 2015 with fifteen electric-powered cargo bikes. Less than four years later, more than 300 eCargo bikes are available for rent in Swiss cities. The director of the Mobility Academy AG explains that the success is also due to the fact that carvelo2go is a timely concept.

Mr Beckmann, what does the eCargo bike mean for you?
It’s a lot of fun and makes my everyday mobility a lot easier. Since we’ve had children, we’ve really come to appreciate it. Although my first cargo bike in Nyon was not electric, so with two children and shopping bags up in front, going uphill often meant it was something to push rather than a vehicle. 

“In European cities, active mobility is getting more space again.”

How did you know then already that eCargo bikes would have a future?
From my point of view, there are three major trends in mobility, all three starting with D: the decarbonisation of vehicles, i.e. the development towards electric road transport; deprivatisation, which means that we share more than we own; and the demotorisation of urban transport. In European cities, active mobility is getting more space again. Cars are disappearing from city centres, which means there’s more space for pedestrians and cyclists. Intersectional zones have become more important.

About Jörg Beckmann

Jörg Beckmann (born 1966) holds a doctorate in transport sociology and has been the director of the Mobility Academy, a subsidiary of TCS, since 2008. TCS is the largest mobility club in Switzerland and a non-profit association. Beckmann launched the carvelo2go project in 2015, which will be supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund until the end of 2019. Around 15,000 people already regularly reserve a transport bike via the app of the same name.

Beckmann, who grew up in northern Germany, lived in Berlin, Brussels and Copenhagen before coming to Bern. In Denmark he discovered cargo bikes – which at that time still didn’t have an electric motor. He transported all five of his children in cargo bikes and remembers: “I used to be exotic in Switzerland, but not anymore.”

carvelo2go reflects all these trends?
Yes, the wheels are electrically driven, local residents share them, and they stand for active mobility. 

In Denmark, cargo bikes have been around longer. Why did it need a project like carvelo2go to make them popular in this country?
It is true that in northern Europe urban dwellers have been riding these kinds of bikes much longer. The explanation is simple: Denmark is flat. In hilly Switzerland you can’t get very far without the help of an electric motor. Electric cargo bikes have been around since about 2013. A little later we bought half a dozen of these new eCargo bikes and started a preliminary project of carvelo2go. And we found that people love eCargo bikes, they use them to transport goods over short distances. In two thirds of cases, eCargo bikes replaced cars for this kind of transport. The preliminary project also showed us that very few people need their own bike. At around 6000 francs, it is also too expensive for most people. But sharing an eCargo bike enjoys high acceptance.

You then launched carvelo2go in 2015. In the first few weeks, 15 transport bikes were ready for sharing in Bern. Today there are over 300 in all cities and larger towns. Are you surprised by your success?
In any case, we have grown much faster than we thought at the beginning. At the moment we assume that in Switzerland there is sharing potential for at least 500 eCargo bikes. But I might be wrong about that. eCargo bikes touch people emotionally. Anyone who has ever ridden a bike like this through the city knows they make people smile. Apparently this mood is contagious and makes people try them out themselves.

“We never had any trouble finding new hosts.”

How does carvelo2go work?
Similar to the carsharing company Mobility. The bikes are available for rent in local neighbourhoods. They are reserved, invoiced and paid via our website or the app. In contrast to Mobility cars, however, our bikes can’t just be opened electronically – keys and batteries are managed and issued by a host. Many are restaurant or shop owners who also use their bikes themselves and can use the sides of the box to advertise their businesses. We’ve never had a problem finding new hosts up to now.

Popular with both adults and kids – eCargo bikes can meanwhile be rented at over 300 locations in all parts of the country. (Photo: Simon Tanner)

Popular with both adults and kids – eCargo bikes can meanwhile be rented at over 300 locations in all parts of the country. (Photo: Simon Tanner)

carvelo2go is a success story. Were there nevertheless moments when things got difficult?
Mainly there were locations that we had to close down. If a bike is used less than ten times a month, we prefer to look for a new location. We constantly make adjustments.

The Migros Pioneer Fund has now supported carvelo2go for almost four years – not just financially, but also with consulting and workshops. How did you benefit from that?
The financial support provided by the Migros Pioneer Fund enabled us to provide base financing, without which the growth of recent years would not have been possible. In the workshops of the development fund’s Pioneer Lab, we were able to discuss our business plan with experts and other start-up founders. We then realized we were on the right track with our sustainable business model. And towards the end, the Migros Pioneer Fund also helped us further promote our product.

A good record: in two thirds of cases, eCargo bikes replace cars for short transport journeys. (Photo: Simon Tanner)

A good record: in two thirds of cases, eCargo bikes replace cars for short transport journeys. (Photo: Simon Tanner)

What does the sustainable business model of carvelo2go look like?
carvelo2go is ecologically sustainable because a good 40 percent of our journeys were previously made by car, as our annual user surveys show. We are socially sustainable because, as part of the sharing economy, we help many people be more easily mobile. We are neither financed by venture capitalists, who are primarily interested in returns, nor do we earn money with the mobility data of our users. carvelo2go is economically viable because we cooperate closely with the cities, because our local and national partners help us bear the purchasing and maintenance costs of the bikes and because of course our users pay rent. No money flows between us and our hosts. They provide important operational services for us and can use the bike for 25 hours per month free of charge.    

What significance does carvelo2go have for the Mobility Academy, which is a subsidiary of TCS?
An important one. With this offer we show that we aren’t just thinking about the future of transport, but that we are strongly involved in it. We see ourselves as a think-and-do tank, which of course also works closely with its “mother” and is supporting her in her transformation from a “car club” to a “mobility club”. TCS is one of the two national partners of carvelo2go, along with Swiss Post.