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Berlin: 5 Billion Euro for the Most Elegant Electric Buses

Within the next ten years, Berlin’s BVG will have to spend more than 5 billion Euro on electric buses in order to implement its plans, according to a newspaper report. The mobility turnaround does not come for free.

The vehicle sounds like a quiet turbine as it approaches the bus stop, and it looks a lot fancier than most other buses on the planet, even though it does resemble a bath tub or a fish can, in a way. The driver does not react to a passenger’s comment according to which he is driving the most elegant vehicle of all time.

Impressive Kick-Down

Once everyone is inside, he kicks it. The way this guy accelerates the bus, all passengers are pressed into their seats. The g-forces are kicking in. Of course this kind of driving style raises the big question: Did the driver just decrease the vehicle’s range by 20 kilometers, just by showing off its power for a second? Probably.

The bus is a Mercedes-Benz ‘eCitaro’, the electric version of the Citaro which comes with a modern Diesel engine. It looks like the German manufacturer created a great bus. Hardly any city bus is more comfortable, it is emission-free (not its production though), quiet and powerful. The ‘eCitaro’ and its Polish competitors are perfect vehicles, if the task is to take a bunch of passengers from the train station to the zoo and back, in a small town, five times per day.

The ‘eCitaro’ is an electric bus model by Mercedes. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Pile of Problems

But this is Berlin, a city of 3.7 million inhabitants who move a lot. Berliners spend a lot of time on those U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains, on trams and buses. The city’s bus lines are quite long, and there are many. All buses in and around Berlin combined, most are owned by the BVG, cover a total of 300,000 kilometers (186,411 miles) per day. This is where new problems arise.

Modern Diesel buses easily do 700 kilometers (435 miles) with one fill, meaning they are work horses that will make people move all day long without complaining once. The latest generation of electric buses can do 140 kilometers (87 miles) before their batteries are sucked dry. On very cold or very hot days, the range shrinks further. And all of this leads to even more problems.

New Infrastructure for e-Buses

While they are being recharged, those buses will not transport passengers. This means while some buses are being charged, others will have to transport passengers. The consequence is that far more electric buses will be needed, compared to the number of Diesel buses.

As if this issue was not more than enough already, there are more of them: In order to be charged, the operator of those buses, in this case the BVG, Berlin’s main public transport provider, needs the right infrastructure. While Diesel buses just need parking space, electric ones need charging devices right next to their parking spots.

Going Green Has Price Tag

The charging infrastructure needed costs a lot of money. The same applies to the electric buses themselves. While a modern Diesel bus costs around 250,000 Euro (282,906 Dollars or 223,162 Pounds Sterlin), electric buses have price tags of at least 600,000 Euro (678,975 Dollars or 535,590 Pounds).

The German-language ‘Morgenpost’ daily is probably not exaggerating. It reports, the BVG would have to invest 5.4 billion Euro (6.1 billion Dollars or 4.7 billion Pounds Sterling) until 2030 in order to go green completely, which is what the state-owned company wants. Since money does not grow on trees, there is a problem.

The ‘eCitaro’ looks elegant in the BVG’s yellow. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

One Thousand Nine Hundred e-Buses

According to the ‘Morgenpost’, that huge amount is being mentioned in an internal report it obtained, a document written by the BVG itself. It includes the investment for the buses themselves and the conversion of their entire system to e-buses. The report says that the additional charge, compared to what the BVG would have spent for Diesel buses, is 1.734 billion Euro (2 billion Dollars or 1.5 billion Pounds).

But since electric buses also require more drivers, on top of it all, the additional cost might actually be 2.334 billion Euro (2.6 billion Dollars or 2 billion Pounds) in the next 10 years. Three new depots for electric buses are part of the BVG’s plans. So are conversions of the existing ones. In order to replace more than 1400 Diesel-propelled buses the BVG is using today, it will need 1900 e-buses by 2030, and 880 additional employees.

Open Question

While the numbers convey an unambiguous message, one tiny question has not been answered so far: Who will cover those 5.4 billion Euro? So far, 48 million Euro (45.1 million Dollars or 34.6 million Pounds) are available, meaning “only” 5.352 billion Euro (4.6 billion Pounds or 6 billion Dollars) are needed.

By the way: The publication you are reading, The Berlin Spectator, was established in January of 2019. We have worked a whole lot, as you can see. But there has hardly been any income. This is something we urgently need to change. Would you consider contributing? We would be very thankful. Our donations page can be found here.