Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG)
Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG)
Sales: EUR 600 million ($628.98 million) (2002)
NAIC: 485111 Mixed Mode Transit Systems; 485112 Commuter Rail Systems; 485113 Bus and Other Motor Vehicle Transit Systems; 485119 Other Urban Transit Systems
The Berliner Vekehrsbetriebe (BVG) operates Berlin’s public transportation system, the largest in Germany. BVG buses, subways, elevated trains, streetcars, and ferries serve nearly one billion passengers every year. The BVG subway system is comprised of nine lines. The total subway network is 144 kilometers in length with 170 stations in all, served by a fleet of nearly 1,400 vehicles. BVG trams carry approximately 450,000 riders daily throughout the eastern districts of the city. The streetcar system is about 370 km in length with 599 cars and 782 stops. Berlin services about 1900 km in bus routes with 160 lines in all and 1554 vehicles. The BVG also operates six ferry lines on Berlin waterways.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 had a significant impact on public transportation in Berlin. Existing plans to extend the city’s subway system were shelved, and many operations simply ground to a standstill as most buses and horses were requisitioned by the military for the war. The war also delayed the passage of a law meant to unify Berlin with eight towns, 59 villages, and 27 rural areas in the surrounding area. This law was finally passed in October 1920 creating Greater Berlin, an enormous city of 339 square miles and a population of nearly four million.
The existence of numerous independent operators of trams, subways, and buses each with their own routes and fare structures made public transportation in Berlin a complicated affair. An initial move towards simplification was taken in 1920 when the city took over all tram lines. Six years later, Berlin assumed ownership of the ABOAG bus company along with much of the Berlin U-Bahn underground system. Thus, the stage was set for the unification of Greater Berlin’s subways, trams, and buses under a single administrative roof. On January 1, 1929, the Electric Elevated and Underground Railway Company, ABOAG, and the Berlin Tram Company were merged into the Berliner-Verkehrs-Aktiengesellschaft (BVG) under the leadership of Professor Ernst Reuter, who was charged with the creation of an efficient, unified public transportation system.
Expansion and improvement of the city’s transportation system had continued apace in the 1920s, relatively unaffected by the country’s political and economic turmoil; the hyperinflation of 1923 resulted in the loss of but a single day of tram service in Berlin. Construction of a north-south subway line was begun in 1922 and would not be completed until the end of the decade. Buses with inflatable tires were introduced in 1924, and the first double-decker buses were put into service in the late 1920s. By 1929 the BVG was operating 89 tram routes, 35 bus routes, and seven U-Bahn lines. The unified fare for all transportation modes was 20 Pfennig. Well over one billion passengers used BVG services that year. Experiments with vehicles powered by alternative fuels, including natural gas, were carried out in the 1930s. So-called trolley buses—electric buses that drew their power from overhead lines—appeared in Berlin-Spandau in 1933, while diesel powered buses first appeared in Berlin in 1934. A number of new lines, including a new extension of the subway, were inaugurated for the Berlin Olympic games of 1936. In 1938 the company took on a new name, the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe. It continued, however, to utilize the familiar acronym BVG.
Wartime: The 1940s–50s
World War II brought about the slow, inexorable destruction of Berlin and every phase of its life, including the BVG’s public transportation. Once again, the military seized most of the city’s motor vehicles early on, including BVG city buses, for the German war effort. By 1943 those that remained often sat immobile because of gasoline shortages. Some were converted to use alternate fuels such as propane or, late in the war, even wood. Correspondingly the BVG’s electric-powered streetcars assumed an increasingly important role in the everyday life of the city. Replacing trucks as delivery vehicles, trams were used more and more to deliver essential items such as food and mail to outlying areas of the city. So essential were trams in this regard that by the end of the war there was scarcely room for passengers and only individuals holding special permits were allowed to use them as transportation.
When the war ended, following months of Allied bombing raids in which thousands of tons of explosives were dropped on the city daily, Berlin lay in ruins. Its streets had literally disappeared under piles of rubble. One of the first orders given by the Soviet commander of the city in the first days after the conclusion of the war was to rebuild the BVG system. That was easier said than done. By May 1945 BVG tram tracks and power lines were virtually useless. Its bus and train depots had been largely destroyed. Most of the elevated stations lay in ruins. U-Bahn tunnels were mostly intact but flooded in places. Only 25 percent of BVG streetcars could be salvaged and put to work transporting people and goods through the ruins. The bus fleet was even worse off; a mere 18 survived, barely 2 percent of the prewar fleet. Most had cardboard covering the windows, where the glass had been blown out in air raids and artillery attacks, and these were dubbed Pappbusse —cardboard buses—by Berliners. So-called Solidarity Buses were loaned to Berlin by other German towns. The most important BVG routes were those that went into Berlin’s outlying areas were Berliners might find scarce food to eat. By the end of 1945 most U-Bahn lines were operational again.
A Divided BVG in the 1950s–60s
The political situation in Berlin impacted the BVG in significant ways. Following the war, the city was administered jointly by the four Allied Powers: the United Stated, Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Berlin soon became a divided city with services in the eastern Russian zone increasingly administered separately from those in the three western zones. In 1946 the eastern ’’russian” BVG had 16 streetcar lines, six bus routes and one U-Bahn line, while its western sister had 36 streetcar routes, 13 bus routes and four U-Bahn lines. Currency reform taking place in the western zones, and not in the eastern zone, compounded the work of BVG employees. Conductors on routes traveling between these zones had to be able to make change for various currencies.
The advent of the Cold War brought new challenges. When the Soviets imposed a blockade of the city in 1948, closing off all land routes to West Berlin, the BVG was forced to end all services at six p.m. each day to conserve fuel. By 1953 public transportation vehicles no longer traveled between zones. Passengers had to disembark in the one zone, walk across the sector boundary into the other, and board another line on the other side. The ultimate division took place on August 13, 1961, when East Germany erected the Berlin Wall, sealing West Berlin off from surrounding areas completely. Two West Berlin BVG subway lines continued through tunnels passing under East Berlin to other stops in West Berlin, but the 11 eastern stations on these lines were shut down completely. For 25 years U-Bahn trains would run silently past these shadowy “ghost stations” that were peopled only by East German guards.
The division of the two cities went beyond the political. West Berlin’s city council, the Senat, made a far-reaching decision in the mid-1950s to plan the city primarily for automobile traffic. For the western BVG a crucial corollary to this decision was to phase out West Berlin streetcar lines. Tracks were paved over and streetcar depots were converted for use by buses. The last western tram was taken out of service in October 1967. New buses—the bright yellow double-deckers now a familiar sight in West Berlin streets—and new bus lines were introduced. In 1953, the construction of new subway lines was resumed in West Berlin, adding nearly 50 kilometers to the total system by the 1980s.
Things developed differently in East Berlin. Not only was the eastern zone hampered by a much smaller subway system, the Russians had stripped East Germany of much of its heavy industry, and the mass production of cars for East Germans grew very slowly. As a result East Berliners came to rely mainly on the old streetcar system and the S-Bahn system operated by the national railroad. In the 1960s eastern authorities made plans to shut down some tram lines, but they remained a staple ingredient in the city’s public transportation. Buses were used in East Berlin almost exclusively only in areas not served by other modes of transportation. On January 1, 1969, the BVG in East Berlin changed its name to VEB Kombinat Berliner Verkehrs-betriebe and began operating as the BVB.
Normalization and Change: 1970s–80s
The 1970s were a period of consolidation of the transportation systems in both halves of divided Berlin. The East Berlin streetcar system was extended to Marzahn in 1979, one of the large satellite cities constructed on the edges of East Berlin to solve the city’s perennial housing problems. Eventually tram and bus service was extended to other satellite areas as well. In West Berlin major additions were made to three subway lines, extending them to distant parts of the city that had never enjoyed U-Bahn service previously. Other western innovations of the 1970s included the first female bus drivers, the first bus lanes, and a ban on smoking in buses.
We want to bring you to your destination quickly and dependably. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about gridlock, unexpected detours and other unforeseeable events. If, for reasons for which we are responsible, you reach your destination more than 20 minutes after the time on our schedule, we will mail you a single ride ticket free of charge. If it occurs in the night-time hours between 11 pm and 5 am and you are forced to take a taxi, we will reimburse your costs up to EUR 25.
Use of the S-Bahn—owned an operated under the peace treaty of 1945 by the Russian zone and later East Germany (the German Democratic Republic or GDR)—declined steadily in West Berlin, and suffered a death blow following the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 when West Berliners mounted a successful boycott. Years later, in 1984, after long negotiations, a treaty between East and West Germany put the S-Bahn lines in West Berlin under BVG administration. Tracks were renovated but remained, with rolling stock and other S-Bahn infrastructure, in the possession of the GDR. Hence as late as 1992, years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was not uncommon to see S-Bahn trains that were built originally at the turn-of-the-century running in West Berlin, in stark contrast to the rest of its ultra-modern transportation system.
Berlin Public Transportation Reunited in the 1990s
The Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, and the reunification of the two transit systems began almost at once. By the end of 1989 the first ghost stations on the U-Bahn lines had been reopened. East and west S-Bahn lines were reunited in early 1990. By July 1990, when the currency union between East and West Germany went into force, all the old eastern “ghost stations” on the West Berlin U-Bahn lines had been put back into service. In January 1992, nearly 18 months after the reunification of the two Germanys, the BVG and the BVB were merged into the Berliner Vekehrsbetriebe (BVG). Two eastern U-Bahn lines, 69 bus routes, and more than 25 tram lines were integrated into the BVG network. Two years later, in January 1994, the BVG status changed from a municipally owned organization to a private company.
In May 1992 buses began driving through the Brandenburg Gate for the first time in more than 40 years. By the mid-1990s other western U-Bahn lines had resumed long discontinued service to the eastern parts of Berlin, linking up with parts of the old East Berlin U-Bahn system that had been amputated in 1961. The system was extended further in 1996–97 with brand new stations being added to some lines. The first halting steps were taken to reintroduce streetcars into western Berlin in 1995, and the routes were extended further in December 1997. A year later streetcars began running across the famous central Berlin square, Alexanderplatz, for the first time in more than three decades. In 1999 BVG was a founding participant in the Berlin-Brandenburg transit authority (VBB), the largest public transit association in Europe which included the Berlin S-Bahn and numerous local bus and tram companies in towns around Berlin.
Continuing Improvements in the 2000s
Despite ongoing budget problems, the BVG continued to make additional improvements in the new millennium. By 2000 two safety information and service (SIS) centers, primarily intended to ensure passenger security, had been established in the BVG network. Additional tram routes to outlying areas of eastern Berlin went into service in 2000 and 2001. At the same time the BVG had begun modernizing its entire streetcar system with state-of-the-art signals and security technology. Computerized route-planners were being installed throughout the network. Among the plans for the later 2000s were moving walkways linking certain subway stations and U-Bahn links between Alexanderplatz and the government quarter around the new German Parliament, and between central Berlin and Schoenefeld Airport. BVG service in general was expected to grow as well, with planners predicting further growth in BVG ridership as Berlin street traffic became more congested later in the decade. In summer 2003 the BVG unveiled a controversial plan to connect fares directly to the distance traveled on public transportation.
Deutsche Bahn AG.
- Electric Elevated and Underground Railway Company, ABOAG, and the Berlin Tram Company merge to form Berliner Verkehrs AG.
- BVG is transformed into a private company named Berliner Verkehrs-Betriebe (BVG).
- Public transportation in Berlin is virtually destroyed.
- BVG is split with separate and independent administrative offices in East Berlin and West Berlin.
- Streetcar service between East and West Berlin is discontinued.
- West Berlin begins dismantling its streetcar system.
- Tram service in West Berlin ends.
- East Berlin public transportation authority changes its name to VEB Kombinat Berliner Verkehrs-betriebe (BVB).
- With the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Berlin stations reopen.
- BVB and BVG are merged under name Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG).
- The BVG changes its status from a municipally owned company to a public corporation.
- BVG becomes founding member of VBB, a regional transportation authority for Berlin and Brandenburg.
- Video advertising begins in Berlin subway cars.
“Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe: Stellenabbau spaeter,” Frankfurter Allge- meine Zeitung, October 6, 1995, p. 19.
“BVG Posts Nearly DM IBn Loss in 1991,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, July 27, 1992, p. 19.
Berlin Undergrounds: Past, Present and Future, Berlin: BVG, 2000. Im Tempo der Grossstadt: 150 Jahre ÓPNV in Berlin, Berlin: BVG, 1997.
—Gerald E. Brennan