Berlin - The launch last week was quite untypical for Berlin's usually loud start-up scene. Outside Bio Company outlets in Prenzlauer Berg, blue cargobikes were offered to transport purchases home. The vehicles can be quickly rented through an app. The organic supermarket offered customers a discount on the rental fee. By the end of the day, Matti Schurr said a few rides had been brokered and plenty of curiosity sparked. "We're just getting started," he said.

The 28-year-old is the managing director and co-founder of the Berlin start-up Avocargo, the first station-free cargobike-sharing service in Germany and the second in Europe. Schurr is surprised that no one else had the idea. He says the vehicles are ideal for the sharing business: they're expensive, they aren't usually used on a daily basis and they're hard to find suitable parking for. "Buying one often doesn't make sense," says the founder. But the demand is there.

Practical alternative to cars

For the three founders, the decision to develop a cargobike-sharing service was a no-brainer. Schurr, who has a master's in automotive management, worked for two years at Share Now, a joint venture by BMW and Daimler. His two co-founders worked at Berlin scooter rental company Coup and Deutsche Bahn's car-sharing division Flinkster. Their shared goal was "to create a practical alternative to the automobile."

The company has only been around since March. The three founders financed the start-up out of their own pockets. They've since been awarded a grant, which helps pay their salaries as well as rent at a co-working space in Brunnenstraße.

At the moment, the Avocargo fleet comprises ten bikes. The three-wheelers can be rented from €2.90 for 20 minutes. An hour costs just under €7, a whole day €29. For the time being, the operating area is limited to the north-east of the city. You can ride everywhere, but you have to log off again within the zone. Users are asked to lock the bikes to lampposts to prevent sidewalk clutter. But Schurr isn't too worried about that. "We have a target group that will make sure the vehicles don't get in the way." Schurr imagines it will be furniture and garden store shoppers who'll use the service - rather than party tourists.

The fleet is set to grow. Schurr expects a three-digit number of bikes by the end of the year. He cannot be more precise because there are problems getting the bikes delivered.

"We'd like to have well over 100 in the city," he adds.

Talks with investors are underway. During the course of the coming year, the entire area within Berlin's S-Bahn ring should be covered. They hope to expand beyond Berlin to about six other major German cities with well-developed cycle path networks.

Berlin's Tier Mobility, which calls itself Europe's number one in micro-mobility and which maintains a fleet of 5,800 e-scooters and 2,000 e-mopeds across the city, welcomes Avocargo's entrance on the market.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed for our colleagues," said company spokesman Florian Anders. Tier also thinks cargobikes could be an interesting option. "We have our eye on it, but no concrete plans," he said. However, Tier will be adding e-bikes to its Berlin fleet in Berlin before the year is out.

Corinna Geißler knows from experience that demand for the pedal-powdered transporters is growing. For the last 12 years she's run Velogut, a shop selling and renting out cargobikes in Skalitzer Straße, Kreuzberg.  There, it costs €20-70 per day to rent one.

"We have just under 50 bikes on the street at all times," said Geißler. Most of the customers are companies that want to test the bikes in real life. On weekends, however, families account for most of the rental business.

Flotte Berlin, on the other hand, rents out cargobikes for free. The project by the Berlin Bicycle Club (ADFC) has been around since 2018 and is financed by the Berlin city administration. Currently, they have 174 cargobikes available for use across town. The bikes can be rented at no charge for one to three days. They must be reserved online and picked up at a rental stations. Demand is high. On average, 70 per cent of the bikes are in use at any time. Flotte Berlin has more than 9,000 users.

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