SPD Candidate utilising cargo bike advertising.

Can cargo bikes carry the German election?

With the German Federal elections looming, emotions are running high as top politicians clash over the topics of cargo bike subsidies and the modal shift away from private motor vehicles. A discussion that is taking place against the backdrop of the wider climate crisis and recent extreme flooding events.

Have cargo bikes finally gone mainstream? The cargo bike itself is a prominent symbol of the changing times with some political campaigns even opting to employ them in getting out the vote.

Last month, the German Greens proposed a federal level one billion Euro subsidy for consumers to match the existing successful commercial programme and assist people trying to reduce their own emissions. Since March 2018, the Federal Government has been paying 30% of the purchase price, up to €2500, for commercial purchasers of cargo bikes. The scheme has generally been considered a success but is often criticised for not providing for private consumers wanting to purchase cargo bikes for home use.

CDU cargo bike on the street.

Naturally, political opponents did not let this proposal go unchallenged. CDU Secretary-General Paul Ziemiack launched a populist counterattack on Twitter – most likely without knowing his own government’s federal subsidy scheme.

“The Greens’ election proposals are becoming increasingly abstract & unrealistic. Imagine construction workers on their way to the building site. Are there also tandem bikes for the boss & apprentice? The jackhammer stowed in the front - a concrete mixer as a bicycle trailer?”

The following politicians commented on the debate in the conservative newspaper, Die Welt:

  • Deputy leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group Ulrich Lange: "The Greens' proposal caters to their own metropolitan clientele, whose way of life is to be generously subsidised by others."
  • Transport policy spokesperson of the FDP parliamentary group: "The Greens also want to extend subsidies to high-income earners; this represents expensive Green clientele policy at the expense of low-income earners."
  •  Amira Mohamed, chairperson of the Left Party parliamentary group: "Those who believe that they can initiate a transport modal shift with state subsidies for cargo bicycles are mistaken.”

The Greens’ candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock, who rides a cargo bike herself said, "I think a subsidy for cargo bikes is absolutely justified”. According to Baerbock, there should be no “absolute inequality” between schemes available for the purchase of electric cars and those for cargo bikes.

This brings cargo bikes to the political stage of the federal election campaign. Will the CDU and the FDP continue to ridicule cargo bikes by disparaging them as the companions of green high-income earners?

After all, CDU candidate Armin Laschet oversaw the very successful e-cargo bike purchase scheme for West Rhine-Westphalia and the Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) has repeatedly espoused the benefits of cargo bikes in commercial transport.

Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier (CDU) immediately claimed the discovery of the cargo bike subsidies as his own:

"We didn't wait for the greens: I tested cargo bikes back in 2012 and was impressed with their enormous carrying capacity!"

Who knows, with the polls so close, any pledges to provide more cargo bike sharing to meet popular demand may clinch victory? Yet, as Arne Behrensen of cargobike.jetzt noted “the debate is only about the cargo bike itself to a small extent, but rather it is about the cargo bike as a symbol of the wider shift in attitudes towards traffic.”

Article adapted from original cargobikejetzt.com article here.