A closer look at the BVG’s newest way of getting around Berlin

About six months since its inception, the ride-pooling service BerlKönig from the BVG has served around 100,000 registered customers and more than 160,000 people have downloaded the app, which customers use to hail cars and pay.

Photo credit: BVG/Oliver Lang

A Post for Omnified by Diana Figueroa

In September 2018, the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) launched BerlKönig, an app-based ride-pooling service that offers “affordable, shared and environmentally friendly rides with the individual mobility of a car, yet is almost as cheap as a bus,” as described on its website.

Much like Uber and Lyft, the entirety of the BerlKönig experience, from registration to payment, is handled digitally. And with few other ride-sharing companies to compete with, BerlKönig taps into a largely untouched market, a Berlin crowd that is younger and more app-savvy when it comes to getting around the city on late nights.

The catch? The operation is limited. The current car fleet operates solely within Mitte, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Neukölln. A representative from the BerlKönig team said in an email that they have “no immediate plans to expand,” a critique a few reviewers have raised on the BerlKönig’s Facebook page.

Though there are no plans to expand the operating area, according to a BerlKönig representative, the choice of where to operate continues to be defended by the BVG and by partners of the service, including ViaVan, a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz Vans and Via, the American company that develops the software for the BerlKönig app.

One advantage to starting a program like BerlKönig in Berlin is the city’s reputation as a nightlife hub, said Chris Snyder, CEO of ViaVan.

“The idea was, ‘Where could we pilot this kind of a service, in a way that would give us the most amount of feedback about whether it was going to be successful as quickly as possible?’” Snyder said.

Jannes Schwentu, a press speaker for the BVG, said one of the main reasons the eastern part of Berlin was chosen to test the service was because the BVG was certain they would find users who would become known as “early adopters.”

About six months since its inception, the BerlKönig has served around 100,000 registered customers and more than 160,000 people have downloaded the app, which customers use to hail cars and pay. Already, Schwentu said the BVG sees these numbers, and the 97% positive ratings on the app, as a step in the right direction. Part of that could be the app’s relative affordability — price per kilometer is 1.50 euros, which can be split between riders, though there’s a minimum charge of 4 euros and an extra premium during peak hours.

Caren Badtke, 25, a Friedrichshain resident, occasionally works late nights. She said she uses BerlKönig about once a week — usually during weeknights, since service runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while S-and U-Bahn services shutter around 1:30 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. on weeknights, respectively.

Other customers point out ongoing drawbacks. Ala Andriuta, a 32-year-old sales director living in Mitte, has used BerlKönig, but still prefers to hail a taxi, due to “long wait times and having to walk to a virtual stop to take the service.”

Though the BVG has not announced a date for when new cars will be added to the fleet, Schwentu said the company is looking to more than double its current size, in addition to exploring environmentally-friendly transportation options.

“We are committed to 100% electrifying our fleet, and that’s something that will happen over time,” Schwentu said. “We started with 50 vehicles in September, and we now have 130 [vehicles] in operation. We are aiming at being at 300 cars at some point of our service. I think it’s a great addition, so we’ll see how we can still add up to that experience in the future.”

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