In Berlin, a seemingly unlikely coalition is blocking two electric vehicle projects. The trade union Verdi refuses the purchase of 90 new electric buses by transit operator BVG. On top, the Senate could stop BVG’s and ViaVan’s ridesharing offer BerlKönig as early as April.
But first to the electric buses: This is about money. The trade union Verdi is not against e-mobility in general; the coaches are instead a means of pressure. Last year, Verdi had achieved higher wages for BVG employees (including strikes), which cost the transport company around €100M.
As local media now reports, the Berlin Senate only wants to take over half of that, meaning the remaining 50 million euros to finance the wage agreement are not yet covered. Since, in Verdi’s view, the Senate is not keeping its promises, the union has announced that it will not agree to the order of 90 electric buses BVG and the state of Berlin had placed with Solaris last June. A meeting of the BVG supervisory board scheduled for this Friday has already been cancelled.
The second project is also about a mixture of politics and finances. The ridesharing service BerlKönig, launched in 2018 and scheduled to run for four years as a pilot project, could already cease operations at the end of April. BVG operates the project together with ViaVan, a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz Vans and the US carsharing Via.
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Now the Tagesspiegel writes that BVG could not promise ViaVan a continuation of the cooperation (“intention to award contract”). Allegedly because the coalition of the social democrats, the left-wing party and the green party “did not want this”. The initial contract already expired at the end of January, yet ViaVan (which bears the costs of operation) and the BVG could still agree on an extension until the end of April.
Should the service be discontinued, however, the complete conversion of the BerlKönig fleet to electric vans promised by the end of 2020 would be rendered obsolete. BVG also wants to expand the BerlKönig business area to cover more parts of the city, but a permit applied for in October has not yet been granted. For those not having travelled in Berlin, BerlKönig offers prices that undercut taxi fares considerably. The cab sector, however, is regulated, drivers need to have a taxi license. A fact even Uber had to circumvent by effectively acting as an intermediary between its users and professional car-hire companies or existing taxi fleets instead of its network of independent drivers.
According to the Tagesspiegel report, the future of BerlKönig could be decided on 13 February: The next round of coalition talks on the ridesharing service is scheduled for that day. At the meeting on 5 December 2019, the politicians apparently could not agree on a continuation, especially the SPD and the Green transport senator Regine Günther were allegedly very sceptical. Without a commitment from the coalition round in mid-February, “we will, unfortunately, have to discontinue the showcase project despite the very positive reception,” the BVG announced in a letter to the Senator of Transport, submitted to the paper.
Only one thing is certain at present: BVG is in for an exciting February.
With reporting by Sebastian Schaal, Germany.
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