We have an appointment on Gitschiner Straße in Kreuzberg, directly at the Jelbi station, Berlin’s first mobility hub, which emerged from a cooperation between BVG and Gewobag. Whether car, bicycle or e-scooter: there are many mobility options here.
The underground line 1 enters the “Prinzenstraße” station as an elevated railway on iron girders. Buses and cars meander towards Mehringdamm, schoolgirls are riding their bicycles with the boys trying to keep up on their scooters. Patrick Isensee arrives by SpreeAuto, directly from a meeting at Mariendorf residential park, one of the locations at which stationary e-car sharing has been offered by Gewobag since August this year.
We want to ask Patrick Isensee about why mobility concepts have to be thought about when it comes to new neighbourhoods, what the SpreeAuto has to do with housing construction, why charging infrastructure is essential for future urban districts and what it actually means to travel multimodally in a city like Berlin.
Meeting place Kreuzberg, Wassertorplatz neighbourhood on Gitschiner Straße: why here?
Because the Jelbi station on Gitschiner Straße is Berlin’s first Jelbi mobility station. We are, of course, proud that it was built on a Gewobag premises. The special thing about the Jelbi stations is that all mobility offers such as car sharing, scooters, Nextbike rental bikes and even e-scooters are pooled at one station, directly at the residential area and at a transport hub. This means that there are enough alternatives to having a car, so you can ask yourself the question: “Do I really need my own car?”
And, of course, here there is the connection to public transport. Another benefit is that the Jelbi app gives you access to all services without having to download each providers’ respective app. For us as a housing company, making an active contribution to sustainable urban development by using existing space efficiently and bringing sustainable mobility to the neighbourhoods is paramount. We also gain experience with regards to how these services are used. Housing construction doesn’t mean just building a flat and a parking space. That would be anything but efficient. If, for example, parking spaces are saved, green spaces or playgrounds can be created as an alternative, which helps to improve quality of life. You can even think ahead and use parking spaces to build more flats.
You are jointly responsible for mobility and parking management at Gewobag. Why does Gewobag address the topic mobility when its core business building homes for Berlin?
Of course, Gewobag’s core business is housing construction and renting out flats, but we don’t just build flats, we also build entire neighbourhoods, such as WATERKANT Berlin, for example, where over 2,000 flats are being built. The home is crucial for our mobility decisions; that is where the majority of our everyday journeys begin and end. In the morning, I think about what my day will be like. Do I take the bike, do I take the car, do I take public transport, how do I get from A to B? And since we want to design sustainable neighbourhoods, it is also our responsibility to design intelligent, sustainable mobility concepts and introduce measures to achieve them.
Of course, it’s also interesting to see which new business models are being established for the housing industry, especially with increasing digitalisation. A specific example of this is digital parking management. Up to now, we have rented out parking spaces to individual tenants, in the classic form to a permanent tenant. But maybe the tenant doesn’t need the parking space during the day, maybe someone else can use it. This brings us back to the topic of using space efficiently. With digital parking management, I can put this parking space on a digital parking app, for example, and someone else, a third party, maybe even a non-Gewobag tenant, can have access to it.
We are currently testing this in a pilot project on the Bärbel-Bohley-Ring in the Mauerpark neighbourhood where there is a lot of pressure for parking space and the project is being very well received. We are implementing the pilot project with our cooperation partner Ampido, who provides this digital platform. Of course, users have to have a certain affinity for digitalisation, access to a smartphone and you have to want it.
Thinking about mobility and energy together
What other departments does the mobility team work together with at Gewobag?
We are located in the stock management department, which deals with operational issues when renting out flats. We work together with strategic corporate development, which makes the investment decisions, and with the technical department. The IT department is also an important sparring partner for us.
As with new housing construction, there are also requirements for new mobility, keyword: charging infrastructure. How much capacity has to be available? How many charging stations should be built? This means that the energy service provider Gewobag ED, a subsidiary of Gewobag, is a very important interface for us. Thinking about mobility and energy together is obvious. Keyword: sector coupling. Here we work closely together with Gewobag ED, especially when it comes to the topic of charging infrastructure. In some neighbourhoods, we offer local energy supply and in the best case, we combine this with the topic of charging infrastructure, for example, in the Mariendorf residential park. There we have seven charging stations that are supplied from the local cogeneration plant. In front is our SpreeAuto. It’s perfect.
SpreeAuto and Jelbi station at WATERKANT
You came here with a SpreeAuto. What is behind Gewobag’s car sharing service, which has been available since August 2020?
Berlin is a sharing capital. There is an incredible amount of sharing providers here. The SpreeAuto is a stationary service. This means that it is available at a fixed location and also has to be returned there. This contrasts with the so-called “free floaters”, which include services such as ShareNow or WeShare, with which you can travel from A to B and then leave it there. We did, of course, think about cooperating with other car sharing providers. But the disadvantage of the sharing market is that it’s very dynamic. There are many services that disappear after a year.
But as Gewobag, we want to provide our tenants with a consistent service. Tenants who live here have direct access to a car and don’t have to search for a long time. Our SpreeAutos have a reservation function, they’re very affordable, electric and zero-emission. Another difference is that sharing providers focus on the inner-city area where they see the greatest potential. After all, it’s always a question of profitability. As Gewobag, we have many stocks on the city’s outskirts and see the necessity of establishing sustainable mobility there and developing sustainable concepts. For example, we have managed to get Jelbi at WATERKANT Berlin in Spandau. By doing this, it’s first time that a Jelbi station, along with sharing services, has been set up on the outskirts of the city. This is really great and a big success.
Is Gewobag now focusing on mobility services in the centre of Berlin or in the outlying districts?
We are certainly focusing on the outlying districts because we have a lot of stock there and some of these areas are not well connected to public transport. But even there where there is inner-city redensification, services are in demand. From a certain number of housing units, a mobility concept must also be produced in the approval procedure: how do people get to their residence, to work and back again? You can’t just build 300 flats and not consider how the tenants are able get around. Mobility services such as SpreeAuto give the option of building in a way that uses space efficiently, for example, to save on parking.
Why are alternative mobility concepts needed?
The space shortage is the most important aspect and as Gewobag, we have the job of redensifying the city centre. Build, build, build. Wherever we can. Of course, this means parking spaces are also lost. The space shortage is a general Berlin problem. This means we have to use space efficiently – and that’s why we develop sustainable mobility concepts. Of course, climate protection goals are of overriding important. We have the perspective goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050. And as a municipal housing company, we are encouraged to make our contribution.
Are the mobility services only aimed at Gewobag tenants?
Our services are open to everyone, regardless of whether they are Gewobag tenants or not. Why should we limit them to our tenants? We’re interested in intensive use, which is then also reflected in profitability. Nevertheless, our tenants have a certain advantage through special discounts or special voucher offers.
How important are synergies, partnerships and cooperation when it comes to mobility?
Very important, particularly as our core business is housing construction and renting out flats. We are, of course, always interested in cooperation for this reason. There are established players in the mobility sector so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Our advantage: we have the assets. Of course, we have carefully calculated what it would cost us if we did it ourselves and have come to the conclusion that cooperative business models simply make the most sense.
Why is it important to try out different mobility services, from bicycles to electric charging stations, when developing new urban districts?
The whole topic of new mobility is, of course, still in the experimental phase. We are looking at: what is well received? What can work? There are many systems zipping around at the moment. This can also be seen in the fluctuation of car-sharing providers. Some come, some go, some stay. We don’t yet have a panacea but we are currently gaining experience on what is used and how. For example, we are gathering empirical data with the Jelbi stations or the SpreeAuto.
In your opinion, how can digitalisation and technologisation influence previous housing and urban development?
Car sharing has been around since the 1980s, if not longer. People had already organised themselves back then. But smartphones have changed it completely. The possibility to choose between different mobility services with a single click has made car sharing and other services really catch on. Today, everyone can plan their individual mobility behaviour every day anew using their smartphone. That’s personally what I do, too. When I drive to work, I look at: do I use public transport? Is there a rail replacement service? Or do I travel by bike? And that’s a mere fraction of the potential behind increasing digitalisation.
Why should mobility be sustainably thought about and implemented?
The shortage of space is one thing, the other is, of course, energy. It goes without saying that low-emission or zero-emission mobility services are better than, for example, diesel or other resource-based means of propulsion.
What does mobility mean to you personally in a city like Berlin?
Travelling is a personal passion of mine. I am interested in the dynamics of cities and have already seen lots of cities. And living in a city like Berlin and working in a domain that interests me personally of course fills me with happiness and joy. I like going to work. Berlin is a hotspot for innovation, especially when it comes to mobility. We have lots of start-ups here. I go to lots of events where smart thinkers come together. People try things out here and you see a lot. It’s really exciting to see this through professionally.
Moreover, I studied geography with a focus on urban planning; to be actively involved in urban design in my professional career is great. I love saying: hey, here’s a neighbourhood, I worked on the mobility concept – that’s cool. This active contribution, that’s what motivates me; seeing what can be done.
On the go multimodally
How do get around?
There is a term “multimodal”, which means using several means of transport. I usually use public transport, but I also cycle. Occasionally, I also use car-sharing services for trips to the outskirts. I look at how I want to move around that day since I don’t want to be tied down. And I sometimes go on motorbike tours in my spare time.
In your opinion, how will mobility will change in the future?
Mobility is becoming more individual. Everyone can organise mobility according to their own needs, their own requirements. Do I want to travel by scooter, car or bicycle? People no longer have to choose between just public transport and their own car. The topic of electric mobility will gain momentum. Future mobility will be influenced by a mixture of different motor technologies and means of transport. Cycling is already experiencing a renaissance today and will continue to gain in importance in the future. Cycle paths are being better developed. The topic of electric bicycles, pedelecs, is also becoming exciting, especially for older people, who then also have the chance to use them over longer distances or to travel over hills.
Photos © Maren Schulz / Photo Info box © Volker Renner