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GAIAEA 27/1, 105 – 19 2 (2018)
ARTS-BASED RESEARCH FOR SUSTAINABILITY
SHARED CARGO BIKES FOR SUSTAINABLE MOBILITY
RESEARCHERS’ ROLES IN REAL-WORLD LABS
ECOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES FOR SCIENCE AND SOCIETY 27/1(2018): 105– 192
ARTS-BASED RESEARCH FOR SUSTAINABILITY |SHARED CARGO BIKES FOR SUSTAINABLE MOBILITY |RESEARCHERS’ ROLES IN REAL-WORLD LABS
Mit Beiträgen von Dagmer Dehmer, Stefan Raue, Petra Pinzler, Bernhard Pötter,
Kai Schächtele, Torsten Schäfer u.v.m.
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GAIA1_2018_Umschlag_88S_5,5mm 14.05.18 20:30 Seite 2
https://doi.org/10 .14512 /gaia.27.1.11
How can cities solve the pressing environmental problems
caused by the excessive use of private cars?
By creating Free Cargo-Bikesharing systems,
citizens are taking forward the transition to
sustainable transportation systems.
Exploring the Potential of
Free Cargo-Bikesharing for
oday, most European cities face the challenge (and opportuni -
ty) of transforming themselves into sustainable cities. The trans-
port sector represents one of the most difficult fields within this
context. Extensive private car use and ownership in German cities
causes not only CO2emissions but also noise, space issues, and
serious air quality problems. The German government is under -
taking huge efforts to support the diffusion of electric vehicles via
a top-down approach, for example, by incentivizing the purchase
of electric cars (BMWi 2016). However, many cities are looking be-
yond the substitution of fossil-fuel-based technologies and wish
to bring about a change in the behavior of city dwellers, mainly
through an overall reduction in individual car ownership and use.1
The support for urban carsharing and the wide adoption of munic-
ipal or public-private bikesharing systems are just two examples
of numerous efforts towards the adoption of new low-carbon mo-
bility behaviors. Despite the popularity of classic bikesharing, there
is currently no scientific consensus on whether it has considerable
reduction effects on car use or not (Fishman et al. 2013, Shaheen
et al. 2010, Zademach and Musch 2016).
Meanwhile, citizens are also taking action and experimenting
with innovations for sustainable mobility via a bottom-up approach.
For example, a network of 46 urban cargo-bikesharing operators
has evolved in Germany and Austria since 2013. Together, these
Free Cargo-Bikesharing (in German: Freie Lastenräder )operators pro-
vide free access to a total of 40 electric and 94 non-electric cargo
bikes, and their membership has grown to 9,750 registered users
within the last four years (status as of 31December 2016, own da -
ta collection). These users can be considered “early adopters” be-
cause they adopt cargo-bikesharing at a very early stage of its dif-
fusion (Rogers 2003). In sum, this new mobility service seems to
meet the important individual need to transport “cargo” (e. g., bot-
tle crates, foodstuffs) within cities. In Germany, one fifth of all pri-
vate trips are trips with potential cargo-transportation needs, such
as shopping or service rides (e.g., bringing children to kindergart -
en), according to Weiß et al. (2016).
However, a systematic assessment of cargo-bikesharing in terms
of user population and future potential to reduce private car use
Exploring the Potential of Free Cargo-Bikesharing
for Sustainable Mobility
GAIA 27/1(2018): 156– 164
Shifting user behavior from private car use to low-carbon mobility
routines is a crucial factor in the transition to sustainable cities. A
cooperative network of 46 Free Cargo-Bikesharing operators (Freie
Lastenräder) with 9,750 registered users has grown rapidly within
the last four years in Germany and Austria. However, little is known
about the characteristics and usage behavior of these early adopters.
Moreover, we still lack even a rough estimate of the ecological
impact of cargo-bikesharing. In order to address these questions,
we co-created an empirical survey among users (n= 931) in a trans-
disciplinary cooperation with 30 Free Cargo-Bikesharing operators.
Results show that 46 percent of respondents maintain that they
would have made the trip by car in the absence of a cargo-bike-
sharing operator, indicating the high potential of cargo-bikesharing
to reduce car usage. We recommend that municipal policymakers
support cargo-bikesharing in two ways: 1. by complementing
existing bikesharing systems with cargo bikes, and 2. by support-
ing local initiatives for citizen engagement in cargo-bikesharing.
cargo bikes, cargo-bikesharing, mobility behavior,
shared mobility, sustainable urban mobility
Sophia Becker, Clemens Rudolf
Contact: Dr.Sophia Becker |Institute for Advanced Sustainability
Studies e.V. (IASS)|Kopernikus Project Navigation System for the
Energy Transition |Berliner Str. 130 |14467 Potsdam |Germany |
Tel.: +49 331 28822474 |E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Clemens Rudolf |University of Stuttgart |Social Innovator at the
Reallabor für nachhaltige Mobilitätskultur |Stuttgart |Germany |
©2018 S.Becker, C.Rudolf; licensee oekom verlag. This is an Open Access article
distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0),which permits unrestricted use, distribution,
and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
156_164_Becker 15.05.18 14:36 Seite 156
has not been conducted to date. Consequently, local governments
lack guidance on whether they should support these initiatives –
or whether they should even consider setting up cargo-bikeshar-
ing schemes themselves.
Our aim is to provide fundamental knowledge about the bot-
tom-up mobility innovation of Free Cargo-Bikesharing and to ex-
plore its potential for sustainable urban mobility. To this end, we
first describe the concept of Free Cargo-Bikesharing. We then pres-
ent current developments and report on the findings of a quantita -
tive survey (n= 931) of Free Cargo-Bikesharing users. Finally, we draw
conclusions from our data and make policy recommendations.
Evolution and Concept of Cargo-Bikesharing
The current system of Free Cargo-Bikesharing emerged around 50
years after the first classic bikesharing system (Shaheen et al. 2010).
However, the history of cargo bikes as a means of transport actu -
ally dates back to the beginning of the 20th century (Ghebrezgia -
b iher and Poscha-Mika 2018). They were especially popular from
Sophia Becker, Clemens Rudolf
GAIA 27/1(2018):156 –164
the 1920s through to the 1950s for postal delivery and among small
businesses (Basterfield 2011).
In general, a cargo bike (also known as a transport bike, bak-
fiets, carrier cycle, box bike) is a bicycle designed and constructed
specifically for transporting loads and children. Cargo bikes are
available in different shapes (e.g., three-wheeled/two-wheeled),
sizes, and fit-outs such as electric pedal-assist systems (figure 1).
In this study we also treat large bicycle trailers2as cargo bikes be -
cause they serve the same purpose of transporting loads and they
are offered by some of the Free Cargo-Bikesharing operators.
Several developments have fostered the recent resurgence of
the cargo bike as an emission-free3means of transport: the envi -
1 In addition, the recent decision of the Federal Administrative Court to allow
bans to be imposed on older diesel cars in cities will increase the pressure
to find acceptable alternatives to car transportation.
2 These trailers are big “cargo” trailers such as the model Carla Cargo,
not conventional trailers with seats to transport children.
3 In this study, electric cargo bikes are considered “emission-free” vehicles,
because the vast majority of the Free Cargo-Bikesharing initiatives use renew-
able energy to charge the electric cargo bikes. For a more detailed discussion
of electric bikes and their environmental impact see Wachotsch et al. (2014).
Free cargo bikes in Stuttgart, Germany: in the center, one of the most common models of cargo bikes – a two-wheeled Long John (in combination
with an additional trailer), to the left, a three-wheeled cargo bike with an orange box.
©BlattKunst/Universität Stuttgart Reallabor für nachhaltige Mobilitätskultur
156_164_Becker 15.05.18 14:36 Seite 157
158 RESEARCH Sophia Becker, Clemens Rudolf
GAIA 27/1(2018):156 –164
ronmental and climate crises and the livable city movement on
the one hand, and the development of new technologies such as
electric motor-assist systems with Li-ion batteries and new digital
open-source booking software for collaborative use on the other
(Zademach and Musch 2016).
Over the last four years, a network of over 46 independent Free
Cargo-Bikesharing operators has evolved in Germany and Austria.4
The Free Cargo-Bikesharing scene is characterized by the following
1. The operators provide cargo bikes to everyone; no formal mem-
bership of an organization or business is required.5
2. The idea that cargo bikes are common goods: that explains
why the operators do not charge their users any obligatory ren-
tal fee but ask for donations (to maintain the bicycles) or volun-
tary participation and engagement. Users thus become co-pro-
ducers; their motivations, knowledge and abilities are now part
of the service (Quilligan 2012).
3. Civil society actors (individuals or associations) are the initia -
tors and operators of most Free Cargo-Bikesharing systems. They
acquire funding for the cargo bikes, for example, via crowdfun-
ding. In a few cities, local municipalities are also involved.
4. Good use of online information and communication technol -
ogy: most Free Cargo-Bikesharing operators use the Commons
Booking software developed by the voluntary organization wie-
lebenwir e.V. (Cologne,Germany)to organize the rental process.
This digital mediation platform for private parties was a key
factor in the successful development of the Free Cargo-Bike -
shar ing scene.
5. Most operators work with “hosts” for the cargo-bike rental pro -
cess, typically shops that are accessible at fixed times, where
the cargo bike is handed over to the user in a personal transfer
situation. In most cases, the operators recruit a suitable volun -
tary host; this can be a café, a small food shop, a kindergarten
or a university institution, for example. To increase diffusion,
several operators organize a rotation of hosts within their city
(e. g., a new host for the same cargo bike every month).
Recently, much attention has been paid to the substitution of cars
by electric cargo bikes in the context of inner-city courier deliver -
ies and commercial transport in Germany (Athanassopoulos et al.
2015, Gruber et al. 2014, VCD 2017). However, national author-
ities have not yet actively promoted the use of cargo bikes as an
al ternative to private car use, even though the results of initial
studies on privately-owned cargo bikes are encouraging: they en-
able users to transport children and loads and to considerably re-
duce the number of car trips they make, as shown by Riggs (2016)
in his survey of new cargo bike buyers in California (USA).
Nevertheless, on a municipal level, some cities and districts are
funding the purchase of cargo bikes for commercial and private
use/ownership to a varying degree (in some cases covering up to
one third of acquisition costs). Currently, 15 cities or municipali -
ties in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland provide financial sup-
port for the acquisition of a cargo bike (Behrensen 2017). In some
cities, this support is only granted to applicants that operate shar-
ing systems or other collective access models. While municipal
subsidies for shared cargo bikes are a rather new development,
the existing network of 46 Free Cargo-Bikesharing operators in Ger-
many and Austria already constitutes a testing field to gain sys-
tematic insightsand learn valuable lessons.With the present study
we want to develop these insights and make them more widely
known using a transdisciplinary approach.
According to Lang et al. (2012), an ideal-typical transdisciplinary
(td) research process can be divided into three phases: 1. problem
framing and team building, 2. co-creation of solution-oriented
transferable knowledge, and 3. (re-)integration and application
of created knowledge. In what follows, we briefly describe how
we implemented this ideal-typical process in the field of cargo-
Phase 1: Pilot Study and Forming the Transdisciplinary
Research Team (January to June 2016)
The core td research team was formed within the Real-World Lab-
oratory for a Sustainable Mobility Culture (Reallabor für nachhaltige
Mobilitätskultur, Parodi et al. 2018) at the University of Stuttgart,
Germany. It consists of the two authors of this paper, with the first
author bringing her social science background, and the second au-
thor contributing his network and practical expertise as co-founder
of the Free Cargo-Bikesharing initiative in Stuttgart. Together, we
first developed and implemented a pilot survey with the Free Car-
go-Bikesharing initiative in Stuttgart that served as a pre-test. To
extend the research team, we held a first workshop at the annual
meeting (June 2016, in Wuppertal, Germany) of the Forum for Free
Cargo-Bikesharing (Forum Freie Lastenräder), a network that serves
as collaborative platform for the various Free Cargo-Bikesharing
initiatives in German-speaking countries. In this workshop, we
presented the results of the pilot study and discussed the survey
design as well as the general problem framing. In sum, the “so-
cietal” problem framings emerged as (A) “What is the positive en-
vironmental impact (i. e., reduction of CO2emissions) of using
cargo bikes and how could that knowledge be used for proposals
to get public funds or donations for shared cargo bikes?” and (B)
“How can initiatives gain more visibility and support?”, while the
“scientific” research problems were (C) “What specific user groups
are currently adopting cargo-bikesharing?” and (D) “What is the
environmental and behavioral potential of cargo-bikesharing for
sustainable mobility in cities?”.
4 In several Swiss cities, the operator Carvelo also provides cargo-bikesharing
services for a rental fee (albeit relatively small). Strictly speaking, Carvelo
is not part of the commons-oriented Free Cargo-Bikesharing landscape.
The same holds true for the pilot project TINK in Germany.
5 There are also cargo-bikesharing systems with restricted user groups
(e.g., the residents of a particular housing block). These closed cargo-
bikesharing systems are not part of our study.
156_164_Becker 15.05.18 14:36 Seite 158
159RESEARCHSophia Becker, Clemens Rudolf
GAIA 27/1(2018):156 –164
In this article, we focus on the research questions formulated
in (C) and (D), because we think that (D) incorporates (A). While
we do not consider it our main goal to help the initiatives gain
more visibility (B), this might be a side effect of our study. Thus,
the overall matching of the societal problem framings with the
scientific research problems was feasible, and a common under -
standing and goal for the td research endeavor could be identified
(Lesjak et al. 2014). At the end of the workshop, most initiatives
committed themselves to collaborating with us.
Phase 2: Collaborative Study with 30 Free Cargo-Bikesharing
Initia tives (July to December 2016)
After integrating the comments and supplementary questionnaire
items that we collected in workshop 1, we carried out an online
survey for the users of those initiatives that had promised to col-
laborate. In addition, we sent out invitations to all those initiatives
that had missed the annual meeting via the email list of the Fo-
rum for Free Cargo-Bikesharing. In order to ensure concrete bene -
fits for the cooperating initiatives (Di Giulio et al. 2016), we offered
every initiative the opportunity to add up to three items to the city-
specific part of their questionnaire. In addition, we pledged to send
them the raw data file for their city. In total, 30 Free Cargo-Bikeshar -
ing initiatives (out of 46) collaborated with us by sending the city-
specific survey link to their registered users via email. At the same
time, we tried to get information on the (partially estimated) num-
ber of registered users in all initiatives via separate emails.
Phase 3: Discussing and Disseminating the Results
(January to October 2017)
After integrating, cleaning, and analyzing the empirical data, we
presented the results in workshop 2 at the next annual meeting
of the Forum for Free Cargo-Bikesharing (July 2017 in Essen, Ger-
many). Here, the initiatives commented on and interpreted the
results of the survey. This allowed us to benefit from their practi -
cal and local expertise and integrate their knowledge (Lesjak et al.
2014). As the format and timing of academic publications do not
always serve practical needs (Di Giulio et al. 2016), we decided to
publish an open access Fact Sheet in German on the Forum’s wiki
within a week of the annual meeting. This Fact Sheet (Becker and
Rudolf 2017) outlined the most important results, highlighting
reduced car usage and avoided CO2emissions in particular. In
this way, the initiatives were able to use the results in new fund-
ing applications, award appli ca tions,6and public relations mate -
rials. The present paper will disseminate the results to a scientif -
ic and transdisciplinary community.
We gathered quantitative data on the operators, their cargo bikes,
and the number of registered users via direct personal contact
with each operator (email or phone). In parallel, we designed the
online questionnaire for our user survey using the web-based sur-
vey software Typeform. The questionnaire contained 46 items, most-
ly in a multiple-choice or Likert scale format. Three items were
open-ended questions. The items covered aspects like usage ex-
perience (“How often have you used a cargo bike to date?”), usage
behavior (“What distance did you cover in the course of your main
cargo-bike tour? The main tour means the tour that was your main
reason for borrowing the cargo bike”; “In the absence of a cargo-
bikesharing service, how would you have made your trip?”, single
choice), purposes (“What did you transport with the cargo bike?”,
multiple choices), infrastructure perceptions (“What, in your ex-
perience, are the main obstacles to cargo biking in your city?”, mul-
tiple choices), future use and purchase intentions (“Do you intend
to use a cargo bike again in the future?” and “Do you intend to pur-
chase a cargo bike in the medium to long term?“, both on a 5-point
Likert scale ranging from 1 = “no” to 5 = “yes”), environmental
and air quality concerns (“How concerned are you about climate
change?” and “How concerned are you about air quality in your
city?”, on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = “not concerned
at all“ to 5 = “very concerned”), as well as sociodemographics (age,
gender, family and job situation) and reports on daily travel behav -
ior (main mode of transport). A total number of 931 Free Cargo-
Bikesharing users participated in our survey. They represent ten
percent of all registered users (9,750 in total, see table 1, p.160).
The response rate was 12.3 percent, since solely the users (7,600)
of the 30 operators that participated in the study could be con-
tacted (see table 1).
We first present data on the status quo of the Free Cargo-Bikeshar -
i ng landscape by way of a quantitative overview of the operators,
their cargo-bikesharing services, and the number of their regis-
tered users. We then reveal the results for our first research ques-
tion “What specific user groups are currently adopting cargo-bike -
sharing?” by describing the user characteristics. Finally, we present
the results for the second research question“What is the environ -
mental and behavioral potential of cargo-bikesharing for sustain -
able mobility in cities?” by reporting data on actual usage behav-
ior, future behavior intentions, and on the estimated reduction
effect of cargo-bikesharing on car use (impact).
Status Quo: Quantitative Overview of the Current
Free Cargo-Bikesharing Operators and Their Users
Table 1 shows the names as well as the size of the 30 Free Cargo-
Bikesharing operators that participated in the present study (65
percent of the total). Among these, the 13 sharing operators that
each provided at least 27 survey respondents are listed with de-
tails of their cargo-bike portfolios. In this sample, a total of 99 car-
go bikes and trailers are available, of which slightly less than a >
6TheForum for Free Cargo-Bikesharing(Forum Freie Lastenräder)was awarded
the German local sustainability prize ZeitzeicheN 2017 in the category
Climate Protection and Climate Adaption.
156_164_Becker 15.05.18 14:36 Seite 159
160 Sophia Becker, Clemens RudolfRESEARCH
GAIA 27/1(2018):156 –164
third are electric cargo bikes. The majority (60 percent) are two-
wheeled cargo bikes, while 29 percent are three-wheeled cargo
bikes and eleven percent are trailers.
User Characteristics: Sociodemographics, Level of Experience,
The mean age of respondents is 38 years and the age distribution
is heterogeneous (standard deviation [SD] = 11.5; range: 14– 76).
Similarly, the life situation of the respondents is heterogeneous.
A third (31 percent) of respondents’ households have children
(under 18 years old), a quarter (25 percent) of users live as a cou-
ple without minors, while a fifth (22 percent) of users live in shared
flats, and 17 percent live in a one-person household (remaining
five percent: no answer [NA]). The majority (63 percent) of respon-
dents are men, 35 percent are women (two percent: NA). The sam-
ple is homogenous with regard to environmental attitudes: 92 per-
cent of respondents are “rather” or “very concerned” about climate
change and 84 percent feel the same about air quality.
With regard to the main mode of transport, the sample is char-
acterized by a large proportion of cyclists: a majority of users (71
percent) name the bicycle as their daily means of transport (69 per-
cent non-motorized bicycle, two percent electric bicycle), while 13
percent mainly use public transport, and six percent mainly use
a car. A further six percent of respondents indicate that they are
flexible users, who switch and combine different modes of trans-
port on a regular basis (multimodal users). Only three percent of
respondents indicate that walking is their main mode of transport.
When asked about their previous level of experience of cargo
bikes, about two thirds (69 percent) of respondents turned out to
be inexperienced users (first to third time using a cargo bike), while
14 percent indicated that they already had some experience of car-
go bikes (fourth to seventh time using a cargo bike), and 17 per-
cent were advanced users who have used cargo bikes eight times
or more. This highlights the novelty of this mobility option and
shows that a lot of users first come into contact with cargo bikes
via the Free Cargo-Bikesharing operators.
To investigate how the diffusion process for the new mobility
service provided by Free Cargo-Bikesharing worked, we coded re-
spondents’ free text answers to the question of how they first made
contact with the sharing operator. Results show that a vast major-
ity of users first came into contact with cargo-bikesharing through
personal contacts, work colleagues, and acquaintances in associa -
tions (368 mentions). The internet and social media were also sig-
nificant points of contact (290), followed by the presence of cargo
bikes at stations in the urban landscape (147) and classical media
coverage on cargo-bikesharing (112).
As figure 2 illustrates, the shared cargo bikes are mainly used for
errands where users need considerable transport capacity. Food
TABLE 1: Quantitative overview of the participating Free Cargo-Bikesharing operators and number of survey respondents as of 31December 2016. Source: own
data collection via direct contact with the respective operators.
16 other cities
NAME OF THE FREE
Frieda und Friedrich
17 other operatorsb
a partially estimated numbers (source: the respective operators) |b n< 27 survey participants each
unknown unknown unknown
156_164_Becker 15.05.18 14:36 Seite 160
161Sophia Becker, Clemens Rudolf
GAIA 27/1(2018):156 –164
and drinks are the two most frequently mentioned types of cargo,
which suggests that users integrate cargo bikes into daily life. Us-
ing the cargo bike to move around materials or furniture is also
popular and represents trip purposes that might not occur on a
daily basis but often surpass the capacity of a conventional bike.
Moreover, the frequent mention of children and babies as trans-
ported “cargo” shows that families experiment to meet their trans-
port needs without a car. In addition, numerous respondents in -
dicated that they used the cargo bike for an event. The comments
made on this topic suggest that users chose the cargo bike to facil -
itate local events such as information stands at street festivals or
picnics in a park. Furthermore, the comments also reveal that the
purposes extend from “transporting my dog” to “bringing my gar -
bage to the recycling station”. Finally, the high total number of in-
dicated purposes (1,625 nominations) illustrates that most respon-
dents have more than one use purpose in mind when they borrow
a cargo bike.
The majority (52 percent) of respondents indicated that they
used a two-wheeled cargo bike, typically a Long John model. About
a third (35 percent) used a three-wheeled cargo bike with a box,
and six percent chose a trailer to transport their loads (remaining
six percent: NA). These proportions correspond to the portfolio of
the participating cargo-bikesharing operators (see table 1). As il-
lustrated in figure 2, there is no clear tendency to use one type of
cargo bike more often than others for certain loads. That said, users
tend to use three-wheeled cargo bikes a bit more for events, furni-
ture, and children (if compared to the actual availability of three-
wheeled cargo bikes in this sample).
The mean trip length of users is 14.57 kilometers (SD = 16.43),
but this number should be interpreted with care since it is influ -
enced by outliers, that is, particular users who made extremely
long trips (maximum: 170 kilometers). After removing statistical
outliers (y > mean + 3*SD), the remaining cases (n= 864) are plot-
ted in figure 3 (p.162), which also differentiates between the use
of electric and non-electric cargo bikes.
In sum, a quarter (26 percent) of users rode electric cargo bikes,
while 69 percent of users rode cargo bikes without electric assis -
tance (remaining five percent: NA). The share of electric cargo
bikes used corresponds roughly to the percentage of available elec-
tric cargo bikes in the current fleets (29 percent, see table 1) and
increases slightly as the journeys traveled get longer.
Intentions for Future Cargo-Bike Use and Purchase
Asked if they intend to use a cargo bike again in the future, a to-
tal of 93 percent gave a positive reply (figure 4, p. 163). Only one
percent of respondents have no intention of using a cargo bike
At the same time, the intentions to purchase a cargo bike are
mixed, as illustrated in figure 4: 35 percent of respondents are plan-
ning to buy a cargo bike and 26 percent are unsure, whereas 38
percent do not intend to buy a cargo bike. The two latter groups
together represent 63 percent of the respondents. These users still
intend to use cargo bikes in the future and are thus among the
prospective customers of cargo-bikesharing systems.
The ratings of different motivating factors for future cargo-bike
usage confirm the need for shared cargo-bike usage, since the avail-
ability of a sharing station close to one’s home is rated as most im-
portant (mean [M] = 8.59, SD = 2.06, on a scale from 1 to 10, with
1 = “not motivating at all” and 10 = “very motivating”). This factor
is rated even more important than a purchase premium for car-
go bikes (M= 7.63; SD = 2.68). Safe parking possibilities at home
are also considered to be a motivating factor (M= 7.72; SD = 2.44),
as well as better cycling paths (M= 7.45; SD = 2.61).
With regard to the built environment, the majority of respon-
dents characterized cycling infrastructure as insufficient for car-
go-bike usage, with 90 percent of users identifying at least one
issue. The most frequent issue is the width of cycling lanes (535
nominations). The second most commonly encountered prob-
lem is cars parking in cycling lanes (454 nominations), thereby
putting (cargo) cyclists at risk.
Goods transported with the shared
cargo bikes, related to the type of cargo bike used
(n= 931). Usage motives vary but transport of
food and bottle crates are most frequently named.
There is no clear link between the type of cargo
bike used and the type of goods transported.
Absolute frequencies, multiple answers possible,
1,625 nominations of different cargos/use
purposes; no answer = missing values concerning
the type of cargo bike.
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Impact on Car Use
The question of whether cargo bikes can help to reduce individ-
ual car use is highly relevant to sustainable urban development.
Asked what they would have done in the absence of cargo-bike-
sharing systems, 45.6 percent of respondents indicate that they
would have used a car to make their trip (25.0 percent carsharing,
16.1 percent own car, 4.3 percent car of friends/family, 0.2 percent
taxi) (figure 5). This corresponds to an absolute number of 425
avoided car trips with a total of 5,509 kilometers in the current
sample. Based on estimated mean real-world emissions in the Ger-
man car fleet (167 grams of CO2per kilometer, cf. Tietge et al. 2016)
this equates to 920 kilograms of CO2emissions7that were direct -
ly avoided by the present user sample in the course of their recent
cargo-bike trips8. About a quarter of respondents would have made
their trip by conventional bike, in some cases using extensions
such as their own trailers. Only a small number of users would
have made the trip by public transport or even on foot. The remain -
ing 13 percent of respondents would not have under taken the trip
at all. Thus, cargo-bikesharing enabled these users to make trips
that would not have been possible otherwise.
Shared Cargo Bikes for a Sustainable Urban
Our analysis of user characteristics reveals that the current Free
Cargo-Bikesharing network reaches a broad audience: the user
group of shared cargo bikes is heterogeneous with regard to age
and household situation. At the same time, the user group ap-
pears to be homogenous with regard to high environmental con-
cerns. In this regard, the current sample is comparable to the
general public and only slightly more concerned about climate
change (BMUB and UBA 2017, p.18). However, we captured en-
vironmental concerns in only two items, and the answers might
be distorted by social desirability.
In addition, men use shared cargo bikes more than women,
which corresponds to the findings of previous studies on cargo-
bike usage (Carvelo 2016, Riggs 2016) and utilitarian cycling (Win-
ters et al. 2007). Thus, future research should investigate in more
detail under what conditions women’s participation in cargo bik-
ing could be increased (Schwartz 2016).
It is not surprising that cyclists are largely overrepresented in
the current user group of shared cargo bikes and represent rough-
ly two thirds of these early adopters. Thus, people who are inclined
towards cycling might be one of the most important target audi -
ences for the early diffusion stage of shared cargo bikes. At the
same time, a third of users have a main mode of transport that is
not the bicycle: public transport, cars, or walking. Future studies
should examine whether and how cargo biking can further dif-
fuse into those user segments.
In contrast to Riggs’ (2016) study of cargo bike buyers in Cal-
ifornia, our results show that shared cargo-bike usage is not fo-
cused on the transportation of children. While children are also
identified as “cargo” by our respondents, food and bottle crates are
named most frequently. Other frequently named purposes include
the transportation of materials (e.g., from a hardware store) and
the facilitation of events within the city. Thus, the usage motives
vary considerably and include some of the most typical purposes
where people might otherwise feel the need to use a car.
The findings of this study indicate that cargo-bikesharing has
a high environmental and behavioral potential for urban sustain -
1. Cargo-bikesharing can help to reduce private car use in urban
areas and the associated negative environmental impacts: al-
most half of the respondents (46 percent) indicated that they
would have made their trip by car in the absence of cargo-bike -
sharing services. This comparatively high car substitution ef-
fect is consistent with the impact found for Swiss cargo-bike -
sharing (34 percent, Carvelo 2016). Thus, the environmental
potential of cargo-bikesharing is considerably higher than that
of classical bikesharing systems, where a majority of users make
a switch from other sustainable modes of transport rather than
from the car (Fishman et al. 2013, Shaheen et al. 2010, Zade-
mach and Musch 2016).
2. The Free Cargo-Bikesharing network has a behavior change po-
tential because it brings people into contact with innovative
low-carbon mobility solutions and enables them to gain expe -
rience in the handling of cargo bikes, as illustrated by the high
percentage of unexperienced users among the survey respon-
dents. This “information diffusion” is an important step to-
wards greater usage diffusion of a technology (Geroski 2000).
7 We consider cargo bikes and electric bikes to be “emission-free” vehicles,
cf. footnote 3.
8 Here, we simply report the directly avoided emissions, referring to the pres-
ent sample without estimating the impact of all cargo-bikesharing operators.
Such an impact estimation depends on numerous context factors and would
go beyond the scope of the present study. For an impact estimation of
cargo bikes in the field of city logistics, see Gruber and Rudolph (2016).
Length of main trip with the shared cargo bike, broken down for
electric and non-electric cargo bikes (n= 864). The majority of trips with the
shared cargo bike are short or medium trips up to ten kilometers. M: mean;
SD: standard deviation.
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The need for more information diffusion is illustrated by the
fact that 61 percent of Germans haven’t heard about cargo
bikes at all (Borgstedt et al. 2017).
The vast majority of respondents intend to continue using a shared
cargo bike, while a smaller group of respondents intend to pur-
chase a cargo bike of their own. Thus, there is a considerable need
for cargo-bikesharing systems because they offer a permanent mo-
bility solution for those people who have a continuous but irreg-
ular need to transport goods. In addition, the shared use of re-
sources is in most cases a more sustainable way of using a good.
The aim of the present study was to provide empirical knowledge
about cargo-bikesharing and its current users. The methodologi -
cal design has several limitations. First, the sample might be bi-
ased by the positive experiences of users. It is possible that those
users that are satisfied with cargo-bikesharing participated more
than those users that were disappointed with their cargo bike ex -
perience. That said, in their comments, the users also raised some
criticisms and made suggestions for improving the way cargo-
bike operators work.
Second, we could not estimate users’ preferences for each sin-
gle type of cargo bike (two- or three-wheeled, electric or non-elec-
tric) because of the heterogeneity of the operators’ cargo bike port-
folio (see table 1): the individual preference for a certain type of
cargo bike might lie simply in its local and temporal availability.
Third, in our analysis we focused on descriptive statistics in an
explorative manner because the research field lacked basic empir-
ical data to date. With more and more research findings on cargo-
bikesharing and its users, sound hypotheses can hopefully be de-
rived and tested with inferential statistics in the future.
Conclusion and Policy Implications
As underlined by the participants in the present user study, the
improvement of cycling infrastructure to meet the needs of cargo
bike users is an important condition for the diffusion and wider
adoption of cargo-bikesharing in cities. This includes broadening
cycling lanes, keeping them free of parked cars (e. g., by stricter
law enforcement), and providing sufficient space for halt situa-
tions on street islands and intersections.
Furthermore, a dense network of cargo-bikesharing stations
or a station close to user’s residences is very important to the vast
majority of users. At the same time, a substantial proportion of
users favors the introduction of a purchase scheme for cargo bikes
in their city. Thus, two types of cargo-bikesharing users might
emerge in the coming years: those who would like to purchase
their own cargo bike for daily usage (e.g., to transport kids or gear)
and those who have an occasional need for cargo bikes and would
benefit most from a network of cargo-bikesharing stations in their
neighborhood or city.
As Rüdiger et al. (2016) highlight, municipalities should sup-
port cargo-bikesharing systems. Our results point in a similar di-
rection. We recommend that cities supplement their existing ur-
ban bikesharing systems with cargo bikes in a top-down approach.
This would create synergies, a comprehensive supply of shared
cargo bikes, and an increased car reduction effect. At the same
time, cities should support bottom-up movements like the Free
Cargo-Bikesharing operators because they have a well-established
and vibrant social network in their respective city district and would
benefit considerably from municipal infrastructure support such
as free and safe parking facilities.
The transdisciplinary Real-World Laboratory for a Sustainable Mobility Culture
at the University of Stuttgart partially funded this research. In addition,
the Kopernikus Project Navigation System for the Energy Transition
supported this research.
The authors would like to thank all participating Free Cargo-Bike sharing
operators organized in the Forum for Free Cargo-Bikesharing (Forum
Freie Lastenräder)for their assistance in gathering data for this paper.
The authors would also like to acknowledge all users of cargo-bikesharing
for their participation in this study.
Usage intentions compared to purchase intentions for cargo bikes
(n= 910). Most users intend to use a cargo bike again. This indicates a consid-
erable future demand for shared cargo bikes. M: mean; SD: standard deviation.
Substitution effects of cargo bikes on car use and other means of
transport (n= 930). The biggest portion of respondents maintain that they
would have made the trip by car in the absence of a cargo-bikesharing operator,
indicating the high potential of cargo-bikesharing to reduce car usage.
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Submitted October 28, 2017; revised version
accepted March 26,2018.
Born 1984 in Siegburg, Germany. Diploma in psychology,
University of Münster, PhD thesis in sociology on
individual rebound behavior in car-based mobility,
University of Stuttgart, both Germany. 2015 visiting scholar
at UC Berkeley, CA,USA. Since January 2017, research
associate at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Potsdam (IASS),
Kopernikus Project Energy Transition Navigation System. Research interests:
interventions for sustainable mobility behavior, shared mobility, quality of life,
rebound behavior. Member of GAIA’s Scientific Advisory Board.
Born 1984 in Ilmenau, Germany. Diploma in economics,
University of Hohenheim, Germany. Co-founder of the
Free Cargo-Bikesharing(Freies Lastenrad)Stuttgart, social
inno vator at Reallabor für nachhaltige Mobilitätskultur,
Univer sity of Stuttgart, Germany. Previously, chairman
and managing director of the NGO Bicycles for Africa.
Research and action interests: cargo-bikesharing, collaborative mobility,
commons, and social innovations for sustainable transportation.
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