BVG Walkout in Berlin: Less Chaos than Expected

The employees of Berlin’s public transport operator BVG went on strike this morning. Neither U-Bahn trains nor trams were in service. Regarding the BVG’s bus lines, only those operated by subcontractors in the city’s outskirts worked on Friday morning. Most did not.

In front of the BVG headquarters in Holzmarktstrasse, some 3,000 bus and train drivers organized in the Verdi union staged a protest at 9:00 a.m., with their colleagues from the state-owned company’s service department. They demanded a decrease of working hours: also they insist on Christmas bonuses for new hires.

Speakers at the protest event accused the BVG employers of trying to make strike breakers put some vehicles back into service. Also they said the BVG was stalling in the ongoing negotiations.

Earlier, representatives for the employers had said it was irresponsible on the part of Verdi to stage a walkout at this early stage in the negotiations process. Also they disputed Verdi’s claim according to which they had not put any offers on the table.

Virtually all 14,500 BVG employees are Verdi members. Apart from the working hours aspect, many of them are disappointed about the fact that most of their colleagues at Deutsche Bahn and other public transport operators in Germany earn a lot more than they do.

On the other hand the state pumps tens of millions of Euro into the BVG, just for keeping it running. Also, the BVG is investing into 1,000 new hires as well as new buses and train wagons.

The BVG, Verdi and the entire city had expected a huge chaos on the streets of Berlin during the walkout, which lasted until noon. But, to the surprise of everyone, the traffic situation in large parts of the German capital was actually moderate.

Most Berlin residents had been prepared. They either took the Deutsche Bahn‘s S-Bahn trains, depending on where exactly they lived and where their workplace is located, or they organized car pools. Thousands went to work or to take they kids to schools and kindergartens by bicycle.

Only some Berliners had no clue the strike would take place. They were suddenly confronted with closed U-Bahn train stations and asked vendors or pedestrians for explanations.

At Berlin’s two operational airports, Tegel and Schönefeld, a few hired shuttle buses were standing by to take passengers to S-Bahn stations. More taxis than usual were noticed in front of several airport terminals too. To taxi drivers, the walkout meant more business.

At noon, the BVG’s transport was back in service. But the public was told it would take hours until everything was running smoothly again.

At this point, no agreement or even just an approximation between the BVG and Verdi is in sight. Therefore, more tough negotiations are coming up. More walkouts are likely.