Emergency braking, in which municipal mobility company Eswe Verkehr acquired its “Mein Rad” high-deficit bike rental system from the Wiesbaden market in May, leaves, as expected, political slippage. 600 long-rental orange bikes were collected from the last 89 rental stations. But whether and how things should continue into the spring of 2023 and why the project ultimately failed, political wrangling has just erupted. Debate erupted at a recent meeting of city council members by factions CDU, FDP and BLW/ULW/BIG, who wanted to set policy guidelines to “reset” the bike rental system announced by Eswe.
In addition to questions about the cause and how of the failure, including costs, the three opposition factions demanded public tender and cooperation with a well-known provider. The new four-party coalition of the Greens, SPD, Left and Volt did not want to allow the initiative to be withdrawn in this area and respond with an application aimed at “a bike-sharing offer that is as inclusive as possible” throughout Wiesbaden.
The four-party coalition also wants a public tender. But it was assumed from the outset that the city would have to provide significant municipal support in order to launch a new system according to criteria not yet politically defined. “The market doesn’t regulate everything,” said Martin Kraft (Die Grünen), referring to the provision of bike rentals in rural areas like Kloppenheim.
Dealing with the past is not complete yet
It is quite possible that the demand there will be several times lower than at the main station or at Dernsche Gelände. This assessment already describes one of the sticking points in the political debate: Does bicycle rental as an element of the traffic transformation belong to municipal services of general interest, as described by Silas Gottwald (SPD), or is it not the city’s job to maintain bicycle rentals at all costs to bring in villages, as Said Manuel Köhler (CDU)?
Obviously a private partner without subsidies will only install bikes where the rental rate is high. But this is a dream of the future, while reconciliation with the past is not over. For Koehler, transport chief Andreas Kowal (Die Grünen) bears political responsibility for the failure of “Mein Rad”. It would be better for Eswe Verkehr to focus on its core business, bus transportation, rather than continuing to ride a “dead horse” and presenting itself as an all-in-one transportation service provider.
Fellow MP Mark Dahlin sees four main reasons for failure: the heavy weight of unattractive bikes, cumbersome rental procedures, the difficult Wiesbaden terrain of bikes without an electric motor, and competition from e-scooters. These are now “in good demand” in Wiesbaden for the “last mile”, department head Kowol confirms and is currently talking about 2,400 motorbikes rented in the city area.
Kool: Subsidies are necessary
This competitive offer also led to a setback for the bike rental system in a dynamic market. Kowol believes that a certain amount of grants is necessary to restart. However, he firmly contradicted the statement of FDP city councilman Alexander Winkelmann, who reported that Eswe had screwed up three million euros with the rental system and subsidized each lease with 19 euros.
In return, every cyclist could have gotten a cab, and Winkelman criticized and, like CDU city council members, spoke out against politically defined rental sites. The market will regulate what is needed, and many users prefer e-scooters anyway. According to Koala, the rental system has cost the state capital about 1 million euros over the past three years. Eswe General Manager Jan Gornemann spoke of the total costs of €1.4 million when the rental system was discontinued.
According to SPD city councilor Gottwald, cycling is a key component of Wiesbaden’s necessary traffic transformation and the rental system is an “essential component of urban mobility”. Wiesbaden has already done a lot to promote cycling in recent years. Granting the lease scheme to a private and experienced provider reduces the risks to the city while at the same time giving it the opportunity to set the terms of the framework. According to the will of the alliance, this opportunity should be specifically exploited.