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Urban mobility start-ups:

How cities could use the crisis to their benefit

The Corona crisis has only served to highlight some of the most pressing challenges that cities are facing. But the pandemic could also be a chance to effect a permanent change in European cities. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is taking advantage of this opportunity and supporting start-up companies that can offer short-term solutions to current problems.

The United Nations has described our era as the ‘urban millennium’: the number of inhabitants in cities around the globe has more than quadrupled since 1950 and in just 30 years, up to 80 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. At the same time, the city is experiencing a decline: many city centres were deserted or at the very least carbon copies of one another even before the pandemic, but the Corona crisis has accelerated the pace of this trend.

Enjoying each other’s company and being in close proximity to others is now viewed as a risk, tourists are staying at home and the German retail sector, by way of an example, is worried that almost half of the country’s shops may have to close.

While inner cities are declining, stress levels on the streets are rising. This situation has worsened during the pandemic thanks to the huge growth in online retail and package deliveries as well as the increased use of private cars. The survey ‘Mobility Report 03’ published by the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre in December 2020 shows that in the autumn of 2020, 41 per cent of survey respondents from Germany had switched to using their own cars instead of buses and trains. According to a study conducted in February 2021 by the market research institute Innofact, commissioned by car manufacturer Kia, more than half of the younger people who took part in the study are now using their cars for journeys they used to make on public transport before the pandemic.

The crisis as an opportunity for cities

The pandemic could be a chance to effect a permanent change in cities. Instead of becoming ever more densely networked and populated, they could be greener. The powers-that-be could focus on smart integration of mobility and logistics instead of imposing an ever increasing number of bans. And they could come up with offers so attractive that people would be happy to leave their cars at home. Raül Feliu is the Business Creation Manager for the programme ScaleTHENGlobal at EIT Urban Mobility, which aims to scale-up promising startups by driving growth and connecting them with cities. “We want to bring innovative mobility solutions closer to the market and citizens through the implementation of pilots” adds Raül. EIT Urban Mobility is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) is an innovation community that facilitates collaboration between cities, industry, academia, research and innovation and puts the challenges facing cities at the centre of its activities. The crisis has been an opportunity to launch the accelerator programme SPECIAL: Covid-19. The aim of this programme was to support ideas in the mobility sector that additionally tackled challenges posed by COVID-19. 23 EU startups took part in this one-time program and were offered expert knowledge and workshops with focus on a “COVID-19” impact assessment.

‘At the moment, the car dominates in most European cities. I want to see a real change for more liveable places and promote convenient and clean alternatives. We need more active mobility solutions to make city centres pedestrian and bike-friendly. We intend to reclaim the space currently taken up by private cars in favour of green initiatives that provide options for non-motorised mobility and public transport,’ says Feliu. This, he declares, would require a change in mindset on city planning approaches that look at the medium to long term. We need to accommodate the shift towards the future of mobility with agile frameworks for cooperation between cities and startups. Furthermore, he points out that an even greater challenge for cities is flexibility and adapting quickly to current trends: ‘We need short-term solutions to embrace micromobility, optimise last-mile logistics, help with climate protection and contribute to create the public realm.’

Mitchell Johnson
Hamburg-based startup Nüwiel has developed a battery-powered cargo trailer for cyclists and pedestrians (photo: Nüwiel)

Changing cities: greater flexibility and a better quality of life

One of the successful pitches for the EIT Urban Mobility ScaleTHENGlobal and SPECIAL Covid-19 programme was given by the Hamburg-based start-up company Nüwiel, which offers a ready-to-implement solution for last-mile deliveries. Founders Natalia Tomiyama and Fahad Khan developed an electric, battery-powered goods trailer that cyclists (and pedestrians) can use to pull up to 150 kg behind them without having to physically exert themselves. The target customers for this are parcel services, retailers and cities. The start-up is already working with customers such as UPS and Ikea.

‘Cities have many problems. The biggest? They don’t have any space’, says Tomiyama. Our eTrailer can get to every corner of the city, can be connected to any bike in seconds, transport goods via streets, cycle paths, in pedestrian zones and inside buildings and also doesn't require a parking space’. But Tomiyama also emphasises that there isn’t just one single solution that will solve all a city’s problems. ‘We need a combination of various digital mobility solutions, innovative hardware and multimodal infrastructure to ensure lasting changes that will lead to greater flexibility and a better quality of life.’

Raül Feliu
Wants to counter the dominance of cars in cities: Raül Feliu from EIT Urban Mobility (photo: EIT)

From temporary to permanent solutions

Other winners of the EIT Urban Mobility ScaleTHENGlobal programme include the French start-up Urban Radar and the Czech start-up eParkomat. Both of these also provide quick solutions. Urban Radar has set up a pilot project aimed at optimising kerbside management and urban logistics in Barcelona using a customised cloud platform. E-Parkomat helps cities solve their parking issues and concluded a pilot in Ostrava. Its platform uses AI and anonymised data from mobile phone operators to provide and analyse parking occupancy in real time, thus helping drivers to find available parking and loading spaces.

The problems faced by cities have been magnified during the Corona crisis, but the pandemic has also paved the way for new solutions to stay. ‘It’s really exciting to support on the implementation of solutions in Europe that make temporary changes permanent ones’, says Raül Feliu. ‘Planning ahead for long-term changes is essential. We have a goal: by 2030, we want 90 per cent of our member cities to have halved traffic in their centres. And I'm not talking about pilot projects here, I'm talking about fully implemented solutions that make urban spaces more liveable.’

Beres Seelbach, CEO and founder of Onomotion GmbH
Beres Seelbach, CEO and founder of Onomotion GmbH

‘I want cities to dedicate their space to people in future and give cars less priority. This also means that we need to recognise the existence of goods traffic. The transportation of goods is necessary and the volume is growing all the time. On the roads, this is evident in streets that are chock full of parked vehicles, traffic jams and double-parked vans. Our e-Cargobike ONO is more efficient, quieter, quicker and leaner than a conventional van and completely emissions-free. If we can scale this up, we could use it for all urban delivery traffic.’

Beres Seelbach, CEO and founder of Onomotion GmbH

 

Andreas Schumann, Chair of the Board, BdKEP Bundesverband der Kurier-Express-Post-Dienste e.V.
Andreas Schumann, Chair of the Board, BdKEP Bundesverband der Kurier-Express-Post-Dienste e.V.

‘One major challenge is a balanced coexistence of delivery traffic with the population, retail trade, administration and politics. Delivery vehicles seem omnipresent, but they actually only account for only a fraction of the traffic. Despite strong growth in delivery volumes, the number of vehicles has actually increased only slightly. Corona has made the public much more aware of this issue.’

Andreas Schumann, Chair of the Board, BdKEP Bundesverband der Kurier-Express-Post-Dienste e.V.

Tobias Lochen, CEO and founder of sigo GmbH
Tobias Lochen, CEO and founder of sigo GmbH

‘The lack of space in cities is becoming more and more apparent. We need intelligent solutions that take up less space and enable carbon-free mobility. E-cargo bikes are the perfect solution here. They provide relief in cities, are quiet, need less space and require fewer resources in manufacture.’

Tobias Lochen, CEO and founder of sigo GmbH

 

Philippe Rapin, CEO Urban Radar
Philippe Rapin, CEO Urban Radar

‘Logistics is experiencing a revolution all around the world. Volumes of last mile logistics are increasing mostly due to new consumption and distribution models. The pandemic accelerates the transition. Meanwhile cities and delivery fleets are transitioning to green and more efficient deliveries. In this context, we observe a growing codependency between the public and private players. Our wish for the future is that the redesign of public space is addressed thoughtfully and efficiently for the common good: better cities and more efficient business models.‘

Philippe Rapin, CEO Urban Radar

Christian Lademann, Head of Sales and Marketing Vowag GmbH
Christian Lademann, Head of Sales and Marketing Vowag GmbH

‘Cargo bikes are environmentally-friendly and quiet, they don’t hold up traffic and can replace small vans and possibly even lorries in metropolitan areas. They also look good and can therefore also boost the image of users and companies alike’.

Christian Lademann, Head of Sales and Marketing Vowag GmbH

Dr. Arne Kruse, CEO RYTLE GmbH
Dr. Arne Kruse, CEO RYTLE GmbH

´Our goal is to revolutionize last-mile logistics with a holistic and sustainable solution. To this end, we offer a smart concept that combines electric vehicles (Cargobikes), innovative interchange systems such as hubs and boxes with our own service offering and the appropriate software. For the development of such solutions, the cooperation of all interest groups and stakeholders is necessary.’

Dr. Arne Kruse, CEO RYTLE GmbH

Urban mobility at Hypermotion

Major players in the automotive, transport and logistics sectors will meet to design the mobility of tomorrow at Hypermotion, which takes place in Frankfurt’s Festhalle from 14-16 September 2021. The platform for innovation will cover issues such as intermodality, smart logistics, alternative drives and the challenges of the last mile. The trade fair will offer a special forum for innovative start-ups who are developing smart solutions in mobility and logistics.

Future mobility Park

Together with Automechanika, Hypermotion will present an innovative test and experience track where visitors to the trade fair can gain an impression of the mobility of the future and try out the vehicles for themselves.

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  • Future Mobility