They call themselves the "visionaries of public transport": start-up firm door2door from Berlin is working on the digital transformation of mobility. The goal: local transport that adapts to people – not the other way round.
Smart route management
Founder Tom Kirschbaum explains how the Ally app finds the best route from A to B (KfW Group/Thomas Schuch). This video is only available in German.
The door2door office is on Torstrasse, in the district of Berlin-Mitte, not too far from Rosenthaler Platz – a busy traffic junction where cars drive in several lanes and the trams rattle through. But in the bright loft space of this young company, everything is quiet. It is located in a back courtyard. The walls of the house on the way in are draped in art, and on the table in the conference room there are small rubber alligators. They represent the company's most well-known product at the moment: the "allygator shuttle".
The "allygator shuttle" is a pilot project. The journeyman's project, so to speak, of Tom Kirschbaum and Maxim Nohroudi, the two founders of door2door. They want to use it to show what can be achieved in the future. The fact that mobility can be re-designed, and above all, implemented. Collectively and digitally.
The idea behind the "allygator shuttle" is simple, but clever: it combines the advantages of taxi-sharing, which is perhaps reminiscent of systems used in certain areas of Africa, with state-of-the-art technology. To demonstrate how it works, Mr Kirschbaum and Mr Nohroudi introduced the service to the streets of Berlin in summer 2016. Since then, ten to twenty minibuses have criss-crossed the city every Friday evening, and around 12,000 registered users have the opportunity to trial the service, booking a shared ride via the app to anywhere within the city.
The whole thing works almost like a taxi ride – with the difference that the shuttle carries several people who get in and get out during the trip while the underlying technology recalculates the route in real-time; so it always knows which is the best way to go, who can be picked up en-route and who has to be dropped off where. "As cheap as a bus, as comfortable as a limousine", that is the slogan of the "allygator shuttle".
Tom Kirschbaum is a lawyer with a real interest in "mobility of the future".
But the great thing is that the "allygator shuttle" is not run as a competitor to other private transport companies like Uber, Lift or MyTaxi. On the contrary, it is operated so the entrepreneurs behind door2door can showcase what is their genuine know-how: develop digital platforms that offer solutions for the local public transport of the future. Because what door2door is actually selling is software.
If you meet Tom Kirschbaum and Maxim Nohroudi, you encounter two dynamic men, who – as they explain – are "driven by the idea of progress" and the vision of "mobility that makes local public transport more comfortable than using your own car". But let's take one thing at a time.
They got to know each other in 2007 in Witten/Herdecke. Maxim Nohroudi, who was studying business economics, had established his first start-up there: a research institute focusing on corporate governance. Lawyer Tom Kirschbaum was a lecturer. And they realised that there was one topic which fascinated them both: "mobility of the future". They attended conventions and asked themselves: "how will people get from door to door in the future?"
Especially when the ash clouds from the Icelandic volcano paralysed European air travel in spring 2010 and demonstrated just how difficult it was to find travel alternatives in a rush. Mr Kirschbaum and Mr Nohroudi reckoned, "there has to be a better way", and they thought about mobility platforms that use apps to make it easier for people to travel. They founded their start-up in 2012, called it door2door, and started experimenting.
The Ally App
The allygator shuttle works like a taxi ride. The only difference is that passengers get in and out during the trip. Transport can be organised in just a few steps using the app. First of all, the pick-up point is entered.
Maxim Nohroudi studied business economics and had already established a start-up: a research institute focusing on corporate governance.
First, they designed a platform for long-haul trips, and later they tinkered with fleets of electric bikes for small communities before they arrived at what really grabbed their attention: platforms that can network all the different means of local public transport: public buses, suburban and underground trains and trams as well as private mobility services such as taxis or ride-sharing opportunities. And all this adapted to the local situation – to individual cities and municipalities, but above all to people.
Mr Nohroudi and Mr Kirschbaum asked themselves: "How can we manage to create a situation where people no longer have to adapt to local public transport services, but vice versa, public transport adapts to where people would like to go?" The answer lies in cooperation and networking – with ride-sharing and on-demand services. A digital module-based system was needed that can be customised to local requirements depending on the region and the transport opportunities available.
Together with software engineers they developed the basis for their modular system that essentially comprises three components: firstly, modern technology – algorithms that are able to calculate all the routes which people want to travel. Secondly, data analysis – which can identify precisely where the needs are. And thirdly, infrastructure – which is able to connect the various mobility service providers with each other.
"If people want to get from one place to another at any given time", says Maxim Nohroudi, "then technologically this is the ultimate challenge." But having said that, so much is already possible today: Mr Kirschbaum points to a city map on a computer monitor and zooms into an individual building: "Using data we can see how well people are connected into local public transport – and even broken down into individual locations such as cafés, schools or houses", he explains. This is where their work starts: they plug the gaps and try to find infrastructure solutions for individual locations and needs.
Yet the complex technology was not their biggest hurdle – it was the barriers in people's minds. The classic fate of pioneers. "We constantly had to convince people, to persuade investors, clients and politicians of our vision", said Tom Kirschbaum.
A vision that incidentally also predicts there can be fewer vehicles on the streets in the future – and therefore a higher quality of life: "There is an OECD study", continues Mr Nohroudi, "that says we can save 97 percent of private transport, i.e. private cars, if the other three percent are on-demand shuttle buses – assuming that they are integrated into existing infrastructure." And that's exactly what door2door can do.
Pilot project My Bus
Thanks to a cooperation between door2door and the public transport provider DVG, people in Duisburg can order a minibus via an app when needed (KfW Group/n-tv). This video is only available in German.
But it took a while before they convinced their clients, industry and politicians of this. This is why they are grateful to their main investor Dr Günther Lamperstorfer who believed in them from the very beginning. And to KfW Group which at the time supported the young company with capital from the ERP Start-up Fund.
Traditional private and public transport in large cities stands on the cusp of a reformation owing to the growing strain on transport systems", explains Markus Schmitz, Senior Investment Manager at KfW, which is what convinced the bank of the company. "What is needed is a dynamic, demand-based system where routes, timings and the type of vehicles used can be aligned with the actual mobility needs of people, who will no longer own cars in the future and instead will want to take advantage of mobility. The fact that door2door GmbH can implement this from a technological perspective has already been proven with the pilot project shuttle 'allygator' in Berlin."
The "allygator shuttle" really was the breakthrough point. Today, the industry is slowly turning towards the company and inquiring about their digital mobility solutions. The clients of door2door already include Deutsche Bahn subsidiary DB Arriva, which is engaged in local transport in 14 European countries, the Portuguese toll collection company Brisa and car manufacturers that are active across Europe and want to develop further ride-sharing platforms. door2door now has more than 60 employees. It is an international team, half of whom are software engineers that work constantly on improving the system.
And at the end of May 2018, door2door announced its next milestone: they have their first official client for their shuttle system technology. From September, the small town of Freyung in Lower Bavaria will be launching Germany's first on-demand solution for local public transport, developed by door2door, because ride services are also especially relevant for rural areas.
Freyung has 7,300 inhabitants and, just like many rural places, it has the problem that local public transport does not necessarily serve the needs of its citizens conveniently. But in the future, nobody will have to wait for hours at a bus stop beside the main road. People can simply order the "Freyung shuttle" via app – whenever they want and wherever they want to go. If this becomes popular and attracts more and more fans, people will definitely think more often in future about whether they actually need their own car or not. And we can also imagine what the future will look like: using such system technology, the next stage could involve integrating self-driving cars.
Published on KfW Stories: 27 February 2018, updated on 19 July 2023.
The described project contributes to the following United Nationsʼ Sustainable Development Goals
Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Non-existent or dilapidated infrastructure hinders economic efficiency and thus engenders poverty. When building infrastructure, the focus should be on sustainability, for example, by promoting environmentally-friendly means of transport. Factories and industrial facilities should also ensure that production is in line with ecological aspects to avoid unnecessary environmental pollution.
All United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Agenda in 2015. At its heart is a list of 17 goals for sustainable development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our world should become a place where people are able to live in peace with each other in ways that are ecologically compatible, socially just, and economically effective.