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Clean Transport

Berlin Fights Congestion With Jelbi — One Mobility App To Rule Them All

Jelbi is a mobility app created for the city of Berlin that integrates public and private services into one online experience.

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Berlin is rapidly acquiring a reputation of being the most congested city in Germany. No matter what it did to make things better, traffic just got worse and worse. That’s when BVG, the city’s public transportation operator, reached out to Trafi, a startup in Lithuania whose mission statement says, “We work with cities to connect and automate all their mobility options — from public transport to micromobility and every service in between — into a single platform.”

In Berlin today, people can ride a subway, tram, or bus, but they can also choose from 11 external services including shared cars from Miles Mobility and Sixt, Nextbike’s bicycles, and electric scooters from San Francisco-based Lime, Stockholm-based Voi, and Germany’s Tier Mobility. Most of those external services have their own app, which means travelers are faced with a welter of different screens with a blizzard of different scheduling and payment options. To simplify things, BVG asked Trafi to help it create Jelbi, an app that allows people to choose from all the available mobility options, pick the best one, and pay for it all with a just a few clicks.

On its website, the company says,

“Jelbi is the mobility app that can do it all, offering access to all services available in Berlin, from journey planning to booking and payment. Based on real-time traffic information, the journey planner shows you all the available ways to get to your destination and compares them clearly by duration and price, so that you can book just what you need for the occasion, weather conditions, price, or simply your mood.

“Take advantage of low-cost bus or train ride, feel the wind in your hair on an e-moped or bike, enjoy the comfort of a taxi, the flexibility of a car, or make use of the space available in a van for your home move. After signing up, saving your payment information, and verifying your driving licence and ID card, you can book and pay for any service directly in the app with just a few clicks. No more switching between apps, no need for multiple apps on your smartphone. Jelbi is the only thing you need to get around Berlin.”

Jelbi has set up almost 80 physical mobility stations next to Berlin’s public transport terminals so users can easily switch from the subway to an electric moped or bicycle if they wish. “We want to offer people an attractive one stop shop for shared transportation so that they don’t need to own a car,” Jakob Michael Heider, the head of Jelbi tells Bloomberg Hyperdrive. The company is in talks to include offerings from Uber and Share Now, the car-sharing venture Stellantis is buying from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Heider says Jelbi was created in 2018 when BVG was confronted with a rapidly growing city and record car registrations. “We wanted to encourage the 3.7 million people in Berlin to switch to shared mobility — and by that I mean public transport as well as private sharing offerings — and that way reduce traffic and emissions.” Convenience was the key. “We couldn’t do that on our own. All of our partners have the same goal of getting people out of their cars into shared mobility, and that’s why we don’t see ourselves as competitors. Furthering the mobility revolution and making cities more livable — that’s something we can achieve only together.”

Jelbi Berlin

Image courtesy of Jelbi

Having all those private companies cooperate may be a surprise to some, but Heider says there is a simple explanation. “We were actually overwhelmed by the positive response from the sharing companies in Berlin. For one, they wanted to position themselves clearly as partners of the city. Secondly, public transport is still the clear leader of urban mobility, which means joining Jelbi gives our partners access to a very significant customer base. And thirdly, while we control the strategically important customer interface, we have a shared customer concept, meaning that any ride booked in the Jelbi app with one of our partners also creates a customer in their respective backend. So we all benefit. ”

Jelbi Leads A Paradigm Shift

Heider says Jelbi is providing the “pull” needed to get people to think differently about mobility in and around Berlin. “I’m convinced you need a holistic approach of ‘pull’ and ‘push’ measures to overhaul urban mobility. We have partly covered the ‘pull’ side with Jelbi, which now offers access to some 60,000 vehicles. But a city also needs a clear strategy for nudging people to make the switch, for example by making private car ownership less attractive. Ultimately, it must no longer be the case that private car use is privileged in cities, but that shared mobility is promoted. This means a paradigm shift — you redistribute public space and give it back to the people.”

There are already 80 Jelbi mobility hubs located throughout Berlin, but in recognition of rising concerns over safety with  micromobility devices like electric scooters, it plans to create 150 so-called Jelbi Points — small parking areas for rental bikes or scooters, at micromobility hot-spots in Berlin. “We have received a commission from Berlin for that and it ties into the city’s goal to create a regulatory framework for micro mobility,” Heider says. “This means that in the future, companies will be obliged to have their two-wheelers park at these Jelbi points with a no-parking zone implemented within a radius of 100 meters.”

More Than Just A Pretty App

Jelbi is exploring ways to expand its reach by creating partnerships with local businesses in Berlin. “We’re already being approached by lots of companies eager to provide their employees with seamless access to sustainable mobility. They are under increasing pressure to cut emissions and want to replace company cars. The idea is that companies can grant their workers a budget for mobility that they can then put to use within the Jelbi app. We’ve done a successful test run with the Bundesdruckerei, Germany’s federal printing company, and we expect more demand from that side of the business in the future.”

The Takeaway

Lots of cities would like to reduce emissions and congestion. For a while, it was assumed that robotaxis would simply take over from private cars, but the dream of autonomous cars whisking folks around 24 hours a day on a few pennies worth of electricity and no cost for human drivers has bumped up against reality. It’s a nice dream, but the technology doesn’t work for the most part and there are ways of getting around a city other than in a vehicle with four wheels.

The vision that Jelbi has to change the way people think about urban mobility is disruptive. And it’s just bold enough that it might actually work.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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