fLotte Berlin and fLotte kommunal

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Icons use case study city info



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Main actors

Local Government, City Government, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group, NGO / Philanthropy

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Project area

Inner City

Icons use case study duration


Ongoing since 2018

Free cargo bikes for Berlin- #don’t own, share!

fLotte Berlin” is a free cargo bike project initiated and implemented by the German bike association (ADFC) and enhanced by Berlin local authorities and the city of Berlin jointly with the project “fLotte kommunal”. The project aims to transform urban mobility by increasing the private use of cargo bikes in Berlin.

Citizens can borrow cargo bikes via the project, free of charge for up to 3 days, for both personal and commercial uses, by registering on an online platform. The platform includes an interactive map that provides an individual bike profile for each cargo bike, and the map also includes information about a bike’s location and details of when it will become available. The bikes are available at non-profit organizations and local community locations such as neighbourhood centres, children’s centres, youth and women’s centres, museums, and public libraries. Cargo bikes can also be found at private locations such as bike shops, organic supermarkets and bookshops. People use the bikes to transport children, to carry heavy items, for weekend trips outside the city, or they just try them out for fun.

The initiative has grown continuously and has been very well received. The cargo bike project shows that alternatives exist to owning a car in urban areas.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Berlin, Germany

Size and population development
In 2019, the municipality of Berlin had a population of 3,669,491 inhabitants, making it the most populous city in the European Union (EU). The larger metropolitan area has about 5 million inhabitants.

Population composition
According to estimations, about one third of Berlin’s population was foreign born or has a migratory background. These inhabitants originate from other parts of the EU—such as Poland, Italy or Bulgaria—as well as from countries outside of the EU, such as Syria, Vietnam or the United States of America. The largest non-native population comes from Turkey: In 2019, more than 107,000 Turkish nationals were registered as inhabitants of Berlin.

Main functions
Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany. As a city-state it is also one of the country’s 16 Länder, as the federal states are called in Germany. Situated approximately 112 miles (180 km) south of the Baltic Sea, the city lies in the wide glacial valley of the Spree River, which runs through Berlin’s centre. The city extends over an area of 891.7 square kilometres and stands at an average altitude of 34 meters above sea level. After the reunification of Germany and East and West Berlin in 1990, the unified Berlin was re-established as the country’s capital (replacing Bonn, the former capital of West Germany). In 1999, large parts of the Federal Government and the German Bundestag finally moved back to Berlin. Berlin is a city of great historical significance, which becomes evident considering the amount of historical landmarks that visualize the city’s history. Some of the most important landmarks include the Brandenburg Gate (built in 1793), the Reichstag Building (which dates to 1884), remnants of the Berlin Wall (taken down on the 9th of November 1989) or the Holocaust memorial (inaugurated in 2003). Berlin is also a famous cultural hub, known for its world-class museums, theatres, operas and concert halls as well as its vibrant club scene and street art. Finally, the Brain City Berlin is a leading location for science and research. It is home to a number of prestigious universities such as the Freie Universität Berlin, the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Technische Universität Berlin, with more than 35,000 students each as well as renowned research institutions and think tanks.

Main industries / business
As the fourth largest economy of the world, Germany has a wide array of prestigious industries. Berlin is home to a diverse mix of economic activities: state-owned enterprises, creative industries, automotive manufacturers, (digital) media corporations, high-tech and telecommunication companies as well as multiple digital pioneers that flourish in the city’s vibrant start-up scene. Tourism is constantly growing and brings about 14 million visitors (2019) to the city every year.

Sources for city budget
Berlin draws its budget for public expenditure largely from taxes, federal transfers, fees, fines and operating revenues. It is spent not only to provide high quality public services, but also to boost the city’s private sector, civil society engagement and cultural life.

Political structure
The city-state Berlin is governed by the Berlin Senate, which is comprised of 10 senators, and the Governing Mayor. As the capital of Germany, Berlin hosts the Bundesregierung (federal government), the Bundestag (federal parliament) and the Bundesrat (the parliamentary chamber of the 16 Länder). Each of the 16 Länder has a representation in Berlin. On many political issues, the Länder have co-legislative powers vis-à-vis the Federal government. Moreover, Berlin hosts embassies from more than 120 countries from around the world.

Administrative structure
Berlin is administrated by the Senate and its 12 districts or boroughs (Bezirke). The Senate is the city’s central administration, in charge of city planning, public policy, and the regulation of public and private spheres. The district administrations have some decentralized public functions, with reasonable differences between the various localities.

In times when environmental protection and combating climate change are increasingly important, and new models of the sharing economy are being tested, there is a need to redefine urban mobility.

Therefore, in 2018 the German bike association (ADFC) initiated a pilot project, called “fLotte Berlin”, for the free use of cargo bikes in Berlin. Today, the project unites two projects: the original “fLotte” project based on the cooperation between the German bike association together with commercial and private sponsors, and the municipal project “fLotte kommunal” in cooperation with several Berlin local authorities. The original “fLotte Berlin” project started at the beginning of 2018, and “fLotte kommunal” joined in autumn 2018. The association is responsible for the project’s coordination and leadership, and it implements the project together with the support of the city and the local authorities. The objective of the project is to give Berliners the opportunity to try out cargo bikes and to encourage further procurement of community and private cargo bikes and ultimately to drive behavioural change in the use and means of transport.

The “fLotte kommunal” project is being jointly implemented by the German bike association and Berlin local authorities with the support of the city of Berlin while the original “fLotte Berlin” project is implemented by the German bike association. Overall, the cargo bikes are available at both public and private locations such as local community centres, neighbourhood centres, children’s centres, youth and women’s centres, museums, public libraries and also at private shops such as bike shops, organic supermarkets, cafés and bookshops. The locations are responsible for renting the bikes. A voluntary worker (bike patron) has been identified for each bike, who gives 2-3 hours a month to take care of the bike’s maintenance.

Today, there are 139 cargo bikes at various locations all over Berlin (as of 14.07.2020). So far, seven local authorities have joined the municipal project line-up and more local authorities are interested in joining. During the Corona Pandemic, 90 out of 120 locations have had to shut down. Many centres are slowly reopening, but they are struggling with the implementation of the strict hygiene standards required to ensure the safety of users. Therefore, under the hashtag #CargobikesAgainstCorona, in order to encourage the usage of the cargo bikes during the lock down phase, “fLotte” called for requests from community and solidarity projects to rent the cargo bikes for longer periods (several weeks instead of 1-3 days) to support their communities. Cargo bikes have been used by many solidarity projects, for instance for local neighbour-to-neighbour support services and for mobile mini-libraries, and also by the Berlin Food Bank (Berliner Tafel) for food deliveries.

The “fLotte kommunal” project is financed by the city of Berlin, as part of the implementation of the Berlin Energy and Climate Protection Program 2030, which sponsors around half of the cargo bikes and provides additional financial resources. Berlin local authorities also contribute financial and human resources. The cargo bikes from the original “fLotte Berlin” project were mostly provided by companies, shops and private donators who promote the bikes in front of their shops and local neighbourhood centres. The bike association handles the coordination and management of the project and the voluntary workers.

Since January 2018, the bikes have been rented 10,170 times by 5,391 users, who each travelled an average distance of 11 kilometres (as of July 14, 2020). This means that 293,238 km have already been travelled by cargo bikes in Berlin, which equals a distance of about 7.3 times around the world. This not only has a positive impact on the health of the bike users but it also benefits the environment, reduces noise and air pollution in Berlin, and at the same time it helps to fulfil the city’s emission reductions by reducing CO2 emissions and it also reduces traffic congestion in crowded city areas. In addition, the project promotes the ideas of sharing and shared community resources, transforming these buzzwords from theory into an everyday experience.

Since December 2018, there has been one user survey, which gives insights on the use and wishes of 5,296 users (45% of users responded in the survey at least once). The motivation of users to rent a cargo bike varies: 52% of cargo users rent a cargo bike to transport heavy objects, 34% of users rent a bike out of curiosity to try a cargo bike, 31% to transport children, 18% for an excursion or biking tour or other reasons. 50% of the respondents used the cargo bikes more than once. Finally, 40% of users say they would have used the car, if they had not had the option to borrow a cargo bike, thus saving an estimated total amount of 19,588 kg of carbon emissions.

There also is a big difference between districts and neighbourhoods. Generally, in Berlin, the further away the district is to the city centre, the lower the occupancy rate. In the city centre, the occupancy rate in ideal conditions is close to 100%, while in the districts furthest away the occupancy rate only reaches around 50% under ideal conditions.  A final evaluation is not available yet, but there may be different reasons for this such as density and availability of public transport, social structure and bike culture.

A key challenge is to identify suitable locations for the bikes and to achieve a high and stable occupancy rate (good location, within residential areas, close to public transport, high visibility, long opening hours, and to a lesser degree secure parking options during the night and a certain bike affinity of the hosts).

Local authorities also need to identify human resource needs and build a motivated and dedicated team to support the project. Occasionally it was difficult to find bike patrons (voluntary workers in charge of the maintenance of one bike).

Generally, however, the bike association found that despite its early doubts, the project was exceptionally well received; it was rather easy to identify partners for locations; the feedback from users was overwhelmingly positive and vandalism was very low. The bike association believes that the timing of the project was perfect, and that it really fits the expectations of an urban population which is looking for alternative urban mobility options and which is interested and dedicated to concepts of community sharing.

  • Thorough analysis of suitable locations based on specific criteria (see above).
  • An early evaluation in the form of user surveys has also been very useful to discover more about the needs and wishes of cargo bike users and the reduced occupancy rate in certain districts (see above).
  • Keeping the rent of cargo bikes free has turned out to work very well for the pilot project in Berlin (easy access for everyone, low administrative costs and no accounting for the centres that host the bikes and pursue other activities during the day, low vandalism and high feeling of responsibility of users who value the exceptional offer they are being given and who take very good care of the cargo bikes, judicial advantage for liability questions).
  • Renting the cargo bikes for a duration of 1-3 days turned out to be a good frequency to ensure the workload for bike hosts remains at a manageable level. A shorter duration might be envisaged at a later stage.
  • A certain amount of publicity, enough to get the project going, but not too much (to allow for good management) is important.
  • The cooperation between the city, the districts and the bike association has worked well. The bottom-up initiation of the project by the bike association, and through the management of partnerships and voluntary workers of the association, was a good match for the city administration.
  • The cooperation with private businesses also worked well and this allowed shops to promote the bikes as well as their trade, and this enabled the project to grow quicker.
  • A final suggestion is to keep the design and equipment of cargo bikes rather simple (only occasional e-bikes, no particular budgets).

On the Map

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Want to know more about this project?

Michael Färber
Berlin, Germany

Michael Färber

Individual | Officer Berlin Energy and Climate Protection Programme

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