How Green Is Green?

The Deutsche Bahn (DB, the German train company) is running a campaign to increase the public’s perception that they are a “green company.” They advertise 150 new and specific actions around climate and nature protection as well as resources and noise protection. Trains are certainly a great environmental friendly mean of transportation.

But is it that green?

A few weeks back yours truly tried really hard to travel from Berlin to two different places with a bike on the train. If ever there was a green initiative it must be taking your bike on the train to another city. You can avoid taking any taxis in your destination and be even more green than just taking the train. Everyone wins.

As it turns out, the German train system has some serious limitations in helping customers reach this next level of “green.”

First, the DB Navigator app allows one to specify “carriage of bicycle”. This is great, but the option is hidden several menus deep. Unless one knows that the option is there, the app does not seen to provide an option for such esoteric condition. Once clicked, the app shows a large selection of connection. One can click through several options, including one nicely named “Continue to bookings”. The feeling of “yey, I am about to buy a train ticket for myself and the bike” washes all over when you click on the continue to booking button. There are a few more menus to click through and there, at the very end, once you get to the “payment” and have already clicked on the pay now icon, you receive a message saying that all the bike places are taken. You are even asked if you would like to continue with the booking just for yourself and not for the bike.

Mind blown.

Did the Product Manager ever speak to the UX designer? The app asking if you’d like to still book the train ticket, without the bike, is as close as you ever got to being insulted by an app. What was the expectation here? “Sure, I’ll leave the bike at home since I went through all these menus and you just told me at the end that I can not take my bike?”

What should happen? When a customer asks to buy a ticket for herself and a bike, the app should show all train connections that answer this simple criteria. The search algorithm should take into account from a to b with bike and only show the valid options. Why bother showing any connections that can not accommodate the customer ask?

In order to investigate the gravity of the issue, you actually swing by the central station to ask the service center if they can find a ticket for yours truly and the bike. As it turns out, the answer was….yes!  How? Manually. The system being used by the kind people at the Travel Center was no more smarter or easier to use than the DB Navigator app. The poor service person had to click each train to see if there were bike places available. “No worries, I’ll wait” yours truly proclaimed and the poor fellow just clicked slowly through.

Eventually, the bike and the rider made it, but not before spending way too much time for a very simple ask. Since bike places on a train are numbered, much like seating, it is unfathomable that building such a function is so difficult, Once this “feature” is actually fixed, the Deutsche Bahn can actually advertise their 151th green initiative: take your bike on the train without spending hours of compute cycles in trying to find a train.

One Comment

  1. Reply
    Alex July 15, 2020

    Agreed, this is very annoying, and has happened to me many times.

    AND there is actually more physical space on the (IC) train than the bookings would indicate: you can always fit two or three more bicycles onto the IC.

    AND – especially on the Regional trains – there is a great deal more the DB could do to efficiently fit more bicycles on the train: on the Regional trains, they’re just lined up along the two sides of the bike carriage: no attempt to stack them, put them in racks, anything. How inefficient is that? I calculated that you could easily fit twice as many bikes in each R bike carriage if there was a rack system.

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