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The end for the Berlkönig would be a fatal signal - not only for passengers

The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) and the Daimler subsidiary Viavan have been operating the Berlkönig since 2018. The ride-sharing service in minibuses is mainly offered in the center of the capital. So far, the service ran under the so-called experimentation clause of the old Passenger Transport Act. This limited the use of the Berlkönig in terms of time. It has already been said several times that the trips would soon be discontinued. When the amended law comes into force in August, this restriction will be lifted. Ridesharing services can then be used in the city without any exception. The Berlkönig and many comparable offers in other places could theoretically continue to be operated - if so desired.

How successful the Berlkönig was before the Corona crisis is difficult to say. There are no exact figures from BVG, Daimler or the city of Berlin. The BVG points to 860,000 arranged journeys since the start and that at peak times up to 95 percent of them are carried out with several passengers. It is clear, however, that so far a large part of the costs have been borne by Viavan. In addition, the BVG only has a few vehicles in circulation.

Taxis don't want competition

The Senate and the Berlin taxi companies would like to get rid of the Berlkönig. The Berlkönig is not even mentioned in the traffic future plan that was approved in December. That’s a bad sign. A final decision as to what will happen with the offer should be made after viewing the data, the responsible Senate Administration informs at the request of the Gründerszene. The BVG replies that they have not yet decided on the future of the Berlkönig.

The main criticism of the offer is that the Berlkönig would be at the expense of public transport. The taxi industry also complains that the Berlkönig would have lost up to 15 percent of sales. However, she does not have any proof of this. Nevertheless, the Senate Administration wants to protect the taxi industry prophylactically. In addition, there is hardly any data on the question of whether Berlkönig customers no longer use public transport than before.

Should customers actually switch to the Berlkönig more often, that would be more of a sign of their success. The argument that a good offer jeopardizes a previously existing, poorer offer is strange. It could just as well be said that the smartphone should have been banned because it would threaten Nokia's business model. The Berlkönig is successful because it has found a gap that neither public transport nor traditional taxis cover: the fast, flexible and inexpensive transport of people in a big city.

Mini buses relieve the environment

If the authorities, regardless of whether in Berlin or another city, actually want to reduce the number of private cars, there is no way around a minibus offer in the long term. Anyone who wants to convince people to forego the convenience of their own vehicle must also create attractive offers and not just say: "Then use public transport."

The attitude of the Senate in Berlin and various other cities towards ridesharing is schizophrenic: On the one hand, they want to reduce the number of cars in the city and the volume of traffic. On the other hand, you don't want to support an offer that can achieve precisely this goal and embed it in a transport plan.

This is repeating a well-known mistake: Instead of holistically approaching all modes of transport that support the relief of inner cities from car traffic, one looks at the offers separately and allows them to act side by side and in competition. In order to get people away from their cars, however, you need a large number of offers, which in turn cover the different demands of individual population groups on mobility. Not everyone can use public transport, not everyone has the opportunity to ride a bike. Those who only rely on taxis and public transport will not be able to implement the traffic turnaround.

If you exclude ridesharing from the cities, you also send a fatal signal to the many startups in Germany. For years they have been trying to find an ecologically sound solution to the traffic problems in city centers. Innovative founders would be told again: We don't want any change. Your ideas are not needed.

Don Dahlmann has been a journalist for over 25 years and in the automotive industry for over ten years. Every Monday you read his column "Torque", which takes a critical look at the mobility industry.