Wednesday, May 18, 2005

What hourly vehicle service has 4,200 vehicles in 4 cities?

It's not a carsharing service, but Call A Bike- a service of the German Railroad (Deutsche Bahn) providing rental bikes in the core areas of Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne or Munich. Call A Bike started years ago as a student project in Munich and was taken over by the railroad a couple of years ago.

Of interest to carsharing is their policy that the bikes can be left at ANY major intersection within the central city area. The idea is that if you place enough bikes, there's likely to be one close by wherever you are within the area. (The bikes can be ridden outside the core area but must be returned within the area so other customers will know where to find them.)

The distinctively designed pedal bikes aren't free. They cost 7 cents a minute (4.20 Euros/hour) - no KM charge, however! The maximum rate per 24 hours (from the time the bike is picked up) is 15 Euros. There's instant membership - at the first use call the service and they charge your credit card 5 Euros toward your first trip (no refunds). And users pay for calls to get codes to lock and unlock the bikes at 6 cents per minute.

Bikes are found locked to traffic signs or bicycle racks using a built-in cable, which is part of the electronic locking system. If the green light on the lock blinks, the bike is available; if red, the bicycle is in use (being paid for) by someone else. To obtain the code to unlock the bike, dial the telephone number on the lock and enter the code they give you to release the lock.

To return the bike, lock it to a fixed object at the nearest major intersection within the core area. Open the protective cover on the lock mechanism and press the button on the display, which will ask: "R├╝ckgabe Ja/Nein" (Return Yes/No). Press Ja/Yes and a receipt code will be displayed. Then call the service and give them the return code on the display and the cross streets of the bike in order to end your trip (and charges).

A cell phone is handy! No helmets are provided. A nice flash movie (at the link below) shows the unlocking/locking process more clearly. Select the second item in the window if you don't speak German.