Background

Shared mobility is on-trend

Open the app, unlock your bike, and off you go. But a few simple steps for the customer mean sophisticated logistics and regular maintenance for PubliBike. A great deal of passion for cycling goes into operating eight networks across Switzerland, with 500 stations and 5,000 bikes. A look behind the scenes in Berne.

Sandra Liechti

Christoph Blaser, COO of PubliBike: We now know our network pretty well.
Christoph Blaser, COO von PubliBike: “We now know our network pretty well.” Copyright: Sandra Liechti

On warmer days, up to 200 bicycles flock to the stations at the Aare bathing areas in Berne. “We didn’t expect this clustering when we designed the network. It’s because of the topography of the city of Berne. Nobody wants to pedal uphill; downhill is easy and fast.” Christoph Blaser, COO of PubliBike, goes on to explain that the situation is somewhat different in Zurich, the second largest PubliBike network with 160 stations: “There are no comparable hotspots in Zurich.” PubliBike has now increased the number of stations in the city of Berne to 200. “It was a very steep learning curve. We have adapted our processes, the logistics and the IT behind them, and worked continuously to enhance them. We now know our network’s characteristics pretty well, and we’re much further along than we were at our launch two and a half years ago.” Information technology is the keystone of the entire bike hire system. PubliBike has invested heavily in IT and logistics, the app (GooglePlay or App Store) and the bike hire process.

Up to 200 batteries changed per day

This is exactly the view of Tim Basler, Operations Manager of the bike hire system at the Competence Centre for Work (KA), who is responsible for ensuring that operations run smoothly. The KA supports people without training or employment in their professional and social integration. The KA is part of the Social Welfare Office of the City of Berne. Six KA employees and 40 jobseekers are currently working for PubliBike. In the workshop, they repair 20 to 60 bikes and swap 150 to 200 batteries every day.

Tim Basler, Operations Manager of the bike hire scheme
Tim Basler enjoys the varied work at the bike hire company. Copyright: Sandra Liechti

A passion for the work

The logistics staff are out and about, either in large transport vehicles or on specially designed e-bikes with trailers, collecting bikes, replacing batteries, repairing emergencies and faults, and redistributing bikes between the different stations. The logistics takes a lot of work, as Tim Basler explains. “The workshop is now well organized and the processes have been optimized. It’s much harder to plan the logistics of redistributing the bikes. When the weather is sunny, over 6,000 trips are made in Berne every day. We have to be very flexible when planning deployment.” Tim Basler is passionate about his work. As a dedicated cyclist who has been involved in the bicycle industry for a long time, he enjoys working with people from a wide variety of cultures and social backgrounds: “It’s meaningful work: bike hire is a cool thing, and it’s fun to work with people who enjoy making a difference through their job. I also like IT, so it’s the perfect combination.”

Bike hype isn’t the whole story

Some jobseekers are so enthusiastic that they hardly want to take breaks. One such person is Kidanemariam Amanuel. He has been with the KA for just four months and is already very experienced. The 30-year-old enjoys riding around with the trailer and delivering the batteries. Sometimes he is able to help customers if they have a question at the station. He reports any damage to the workshop immediately on his mobile phone.

Kidanemariam Amanuel
Kidanemariam Amanuel enjoys riding around with the trailer and delivering the batteries. Copyright: Sandra Liechti
Replacing a battery
Copyright: Sandra Liechti

According to Christoph Blaser, shared mobility is on-trend. This is why he sees great potential for PubliBike, and not just because of the coronavirus-related bike hype. But it’s hard to make a profit with bike sharing (InnoPodcast with Markus Bacher). PubliBike took the first step in this direction in June 2020. Every trip must now be paid for, and it is not possible to hire a second bike free of charge using the same subscription. This has currently reduced the number of trips somewhat, although it has improved overall revenue, as expected. And the KA logistics team still has its hands full with work. Every day.

written by

Sandra Liechti