Bike Share Conferences

Wherecamp and Bikes in Berlin

I was in Berlin last weekend for Wherecamp EU – the European neogeo unconference, which was previously in London. The unconference took place in the pleasant campus of a language school in the north-east of the city. As well as the session rooms, there was an outdoor area for snacking – with giant salted pretzels! – and informal discussions. A wide range of spatial developers and technologists were present, from the UK, Germany and around Europe, although all sessions were in English.

There were some very interesting sessions – I particularly enjoyed Chris Osborne‘s closing talk showcasing the latest ITO visualisations of travel, including a “coloured lasers” animation of John McKerrell‘s movements over several years, and Peter Batty‘s look behind the work of his company – Ubisense – indoor navigation, including tracking cows!

My own presentation was a summary of CASA‘s current research, with a focus on some of our recent visualisations, particularly of transport and social network data. I also touched on my bike share work. Steve, my co-worker who was also at the conference, presented in more depth on visualising georeferenced social network data, such as Twitter and Foursquare, and also mentioned GEMMA, the JISC project that we are both working on at the moment. We’ll be going into GEMMA in more depth at State of the Map EU, in Vienna next month.

I also took the time to have a look at the bike share scheme in the city, which is called Call-a-Bike:

It has been around for a few years, as a fully distributed system, where users, on finding a locked bike anywhere in the city, call a number on the bike to receive an unlock code, then do their journey and leave it locked. Last week, it relaunched as a dock-based system, with bikes grouped at docking stations, and terminal screens:

Interestingly the bike docks are just concrete blocks with simple holding gates – so the bike itself knows if its locked (and presumably via RFID in the dock where it is) rather than the data being transmitted through the dock itself. There is also no power attached to the stands. In London, the information presumably gets passed through the docks to the terminal which then broadcasts it to the scheme operation system – and the dock recharges the lights on the bike [Update – the lights are charged by dynamo]. In Berlin, each bike itself does the broadcasting, and the bikes have a long-life battery. Having the simple, unfixed concrete blocks allows docks to expand much more easily. In London, it’s a big deal to get the planning permission, install the underground connectivity in the pavement and hatches for the docks, and finally put the docks in themselves.

I was excited to see that the terminal screens have maps showing the empty/full status of the surrounding docking stations. The terminal screen maps appear to be using a custom map, similar to Google Maps, as their background, with the statuses superimposed on top:

Interestingly, the empty/full information displayed on these screens is not available on the scheme’s public website, so I have not been able so far to include it in my bike share map which now covers 32 (non-German) cities. I would love to know the source of the data for the maps in the terminals…

The map in the terminal has some obvious flaws, such as if you zoom out:

The scheme is quite expensive – 15 EUR for a 24 hour hire (compared to £1 in London) and, like London, you get charged additionally for journeys that last longer than 30 minutes. There is also a pay-per-minute option of 8 cents per minute, which works out quite well for shorter journeys but is still quite an expensive option (half an hour would be 3 EUR). [Update – I got this slightly wrong – it’s 12 EUR to register, which gives you 7.50 EUR of credits, then it’s 8 cents per minute up to a ceiling of 15 EUR for 24 hours. Still quite a lot more than London’s pricing.] The scheme has only just been relaunched, but I noticed only one person using a bike share bike in the several hours I spent wandering about the area, whereas in London you can’t move for Boris Bikes in certain areas…

The bikes themselves seem to be in good condition, and have a generous area for stowing bags, on the back. I hope the scheme does continue to grow.

This was what I found most upsetting about the trip, as a London cyclist:

Notice the dedicated cycleway, which is using coloured bricks (rather than paint), is raised to the level of the pavement, and has priority over side-streets that it crosses. But the thing which made me wish I was a Berlin cyclist and not a London cyclist, was the deliveryman. Notice how he is carefully unloading the boxes from the lorry and stacking them up on the narrow space between the road and the cycleway. If this was London, the lorry would first be parked across the cycleway, or failing that the boxes would be piled up on the cycleway. Non-cyclists in London just don’t respect cycle facilities.

Anyway I enjoyed my Berlin trip, it was a good unconference, both interesting and informal, and I look forward to future Wherecamps!

8 replies on “Wherecamp and Bikes in Berlin”

We’ve got the same bikes in Toronto and Montreal (Bixi). The lights are actually powered from the generators in the wheels. You’ll notice that they don’t turn on until the wheels turn – there’s a generator in the front and one in the back. A Bixi technician explained this to me.

Funnily the original Montreal design for the stations made them mobile and solar-powered. Here in Toronto as well. The stations can easily be moved. I wonder why London decided to make them fixed.

I went to the Call-a-Bike website. From what I can tell a yearly membership costs at most 36 Euro. With that the first 30 minutes are free. Then for 31 minutes and over it is 8 cents a minute for a *maximum* of 15 Euro over 24 hours. At least that’s how I read this page, using the Ohne BahnCard as an example: (I translated through Google but still had to guess at some German, based on my understanding of Dutch so I could be wrong).

Interesting trip. And thanks for the great visualization of Bixi data! It’s been making the news here in Toronto.

Thanks Herb -I’ve updated now. Looks like, for a tourist (i.e. me) it would have been 12 EUR to register, with EUR 7.50 credit, and then 0.08 EUR per minute, up to a maximum of 15 EUR in 24 hours. So still more than the London scheme – which is £1 for 24 hours with no registration fee, as long as journeys are less than 30 minutes.

Maybe too pessimistic about the London lorryman? 🙂
However it’s true that in some European countries there’s a better culture about cycling. I’ve just come back from Amsterdam and things are even more shocking than Berlin in comparison to London, although there isn’t a public bike share scheme (likely due to the cultural popularity of bicycle ownership in the Netherlands).

@Giuseppe Actually, that’s the reason why these bikes aren’t used as much in Berlin as Boris’ London ones..

two reasons for this are in IMO:
1/ I would say that upwards of 70% of Berliners own a bike
2/ It is also possible in Berlin to take your bike onto public transport and people generally don’t live as far away from their place of work as in London, with a much higher mix of living and commercial space in the centre. Workers tend therefore not to be ‘stranded’ in the central area without their own means of transport.

Hi, I wonder if you have contacted already? They operate bike sharing in several cities in Germany and Austria. There is an XML feed of stations and the info page (only on the German version) says to contact them for an API account.

Hermann – I haven’t, thanks for the link. The feed looks interesting but only lists “5+” if there are five or more bikes available, rather than the actual number (and dock size – I know that for many of the German schemes the size of the docks is not fixed.)

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