Goodbye, Berlkönig! The final journey is inevitable. What’s next?

You have to think about the grand finale of a long, suspenseful movie. “Berlkönig goes until sunset”: This is how the driving service from Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) and Via Van says goodbye to its website almost four years after the city. On Thursday evening, reservations for black limousines with a yellow heart will be accepted for the last time. It’s over at two o’clock – forever.

Once again, we let the chauffeur drive through the eastern downtown, with an exceptional driver at the wheel. But why is Berlkönig stopping now? What will happen after that? Summary – and perspective.

It is pleasantly chilly in Berlkönig. The only and last one still driving through Berlin. This explains Cihangir B., who he says is currently the only driver. The car is empty when it stops at Schlesische Strasse in Kreuzberg, near Heckmannufer. He came here specially on request. Berlköng was designed as a car sharing service where other passengers traveling for similar purposes should also sit in the car to achieve good occupancy.

The 9 euro ticket is a new player

The trip leads to Prenzlauer Berg, to Bötzowviertel. The city center route, which can of course also be traveled by the BVG. For example, you can take bus 265 to the Oberbaum Bridge, walk over there, and take the M10 tram on Warschauer Strasse. But at this time the bus is often stuck in traffic, Berlin is 36 degrees and the bag is heavy.

A trip from Berlkönig costs 8.48 euros. Almost as much as a € 9 ticket that is valid throughout Germany throughout July. But it’s like being chauffeured in the heat on a private bus.

Berlkönig was an ideal service for downtown residents who actually wanted to use public transport but were sometimes too lazy to handle the effort. For routes in the eastern city center that were not particularly remote but inconvenient for buses and trains. Even when you had to share the car with other passengers boarding or disembarking the bus along the way, using the minibus was easy.

The air conditioning draft cools the feet until no one gets to Prenzlauer Berg. There is also no post-travel booking, says Cihangir B.

Good pay, good working conditions, good reviews

He says he was in Berlkönig from the first to the last day as the only driver. Almost four years have passed since the start of September 7, 2018 and it is hard for him to believe it. Working conditions were good, wages were in line with collective agreements, customers were satisfied 99 percent of the time and customer ratings were almost all good. There are real repeat customers who show that you did something right. “People came with us not only because of the price,” he says. On the last day, he may see some of these customers again. Anyone who still has a balance in their Berlkönig account must do so now, last chance.

The driver tells about the beginnings. Initially, the service was available only on weekends, then the cars were full around the clock. Then, in the spring of 2020, came Corona and the first blockade. Due to the closure of restaurants and cultural institutions, the number of passengers has dropped to almost zero. And in times of a pandemic, no one suddenly wanted to go along with the other small limos. Six months ago, BVG announced that the service would be discontinued. Customers did not come back after the pandemic or stayed away. And then a ticket for 9 euros came, says Cihangir B.

The new BVG duty bus will be launched in the third quarter in the eastern part of the city

The driver will not lose his job, but he will get to know other parts of Berlin – he says. Cihangir B. calls them “surroundings”, even though these areas are still within the city limits of Berlin. The new BVG duty bus, according to its working title, will cover an area of ​​over 60 square kilometers in East Berlin.

Rummelsburg, Friedrichsfelde, Karlshorst, Biesdorf, Kaulsdorf, Mahlsdorf, Oberschöneweide: these parts of the city extend wholly or partially into a service area that extends between Ostkreuz and the city limits and looks like a piece of cake on the map. There is talk of driving around the clock. BVG has not revealed when it will start yet. Eva Kreienkamp, ​​head of the state-owned company, can only say this: “We’re still discussing. But we want to start in the third quarter of 2022. “

Let’s see, says Cihangir B., what it is like in the area where the new duty bus is used, is looking forward to. Driving in the center is becoming less and less pleasant, “there are construction sites, traffic jams, scooters, such traffic everywhere,” he says.

Ten Mercedes, each with five to seven passengers, will be on their way. According to the Senate, half of the fleet should be accessible to passengers in wheelchairs. If you want to take a ride, you can book a tour through the app or by phone. A ticket for the B tariff zone is required, plus a surcharge – according to the head of BVG Kreienkamp, ​​1.50 euro per trip. Payment is made by credit card, direct debit and later also by BVG credit card. As with Berlkönig, there will be no door-to-door service like there is with a taxi. The new ride pooling service also controls virtual stops, which are only recognizable in the app, as well as bus and train stations.

BVG and Via contributed a lot of money

But one important detail is another: funding. BVG will bear the costs in the future. The calculation assumes that their call bus fees will amount to nearly ten million euros by the end of the contract at the end of 2025. The Via company gets money. She won the BVG tender and will operate the telephone bus on her behalf.

The US-Israeli company also played a decisive role in Berlkönig. Together with Daimler, she founded Via Van, which was responsible for the operation – and is said to have financed it largely as well. One observer assumes that Via Van contributed a double-digit sum of millions since 2018. In 2019 alone, it had to be between eight and twelve million euros, he says. But the state-owned BVG also contributed a lot of money, reportedly in millions as well. Provides depot infrastructure and funds marketing and ordering platform.

“Berlkönig is only a shadow of himself”

In fact, the Berlkönig, which carried 1.85 million passengers, could run until September 2022. This is how long the exemption is in force as an “atypical regular service”, which was granted by a state authority on the basis of the experimental clause of the Passenger Transport Act. “But the Berlkönig is only a shadow of himself,” said the initiate. The concession would allow 185 cars, today the number is single-digit. “The Berlkönig simply costs money. Now he’s hiring – to save money. The taxi industry in Berlin, which saw Berlkönig as subsidized competition, would be pleased.

Cihangir B. steadily drives the car through the chaos of downtown traffic during rush hour, not as hectic as some taxi drivers. At 8 p.m. he will hand it over to a colleague for a late shift that will last until two in the morning. On Wednesday, B. will ride the Berlkönig again. He was there on the first day, rides on the last, he says. a matter of honor.

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