The Berliner Verkehrs-AG (BVG) was founded in 1928 at the initiative of Ernst Reuter, who was the city councilor for transportation at the time. The corporation began operating on January 1, 1929. In 1938 it became a Berlin-owned enterprise operating under the name Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe. The abbreviation “BVG” was so popular, however, that the company has kept it to this day.
With the division of Berlin following World War II, a separate BVG administration was formed in 1949 in the eastern half of the city, and it began operating under the name VEB Kombinat Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVB) in 1969. After the reunification of West Berlin and East Berlin, the BVG and BVB merged on January 1, 1992 as the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) and in 1994, it was reconstituted as a public institution.
Dr. Sigrid Evelyn Nikutta is the chairwoman of the board/director of operations for BVG and prior to this, was the director of operations of the Deuthche Bahnsubsidiary Schenker Rail Polska S.A. in Zabrze, Poland. “I was responsible for high-value rail technology and for more than 3,000 employees,” says Nikutta. “In such a situation, you learn to assert yourself and gain a great deal of technical and organizational knowledge.”
Two years ago she started at the BVG and she says an enterprise like the BVG is a completely new challenge, as ultimately, she is responsible for four operational divisions: Bus, Tram, Underground and Construction/Infrastructure.
With the Underground, buses, trams and ferries, the BVG’s vehicles circle the globe about 5,800 times a year with more than 900 million passengers using the vehicles every year. Nikutta says, “We are the biggest company in public transport in Germany.
“We are also the biggest bus transportation system, the biggest underground system and biggest tram system in Germany; we have the biggest.” She adds with a laugh, “And best, of course!”
When looking at a map of the service in Berlin, the division of the city resulted in differing networks; the western part of the city is primarily bus and the eastern part is primarily tram. Nikutta explains, “In 1968 they stopped running the trams in the city and switched completely to buses.” At the time, they wanted to be “modern” and got rid of the “old-fashioned” tram system and got all new buses. She says, “But now we really regret this.”
Transport in the Black
BVG has several key performance goals it’s working toward: to be in the black by 2016, revenue increases of 3 percent annually to 2020, and 1 billion journeys annually from 2020, all while maintaining high customer satisfaction standards.
BVG reports to the state transport authority. “We are owned by the state of Berlin,” Nikutta says. “We have a contract with the state of Berlin, who gives us money. We have negotiations for the contract with the state.” She adds, “This situation is not so comfortable for us.”
The first company contract in 1993 was for $986 million (1€ = $1.2934) and has decreased more than 60 percent in the last 20 years, down to $323 million this year: $97 million for transport and $226 million for the maintenance of the infrastructure. “That’s all we get for the whole system,” Nikutta stresses.
Farebox revenue totaled about $711million last year. In recent years, ticket price increases in Berlin have been far lower than in other integrated transport networks.
“We fight very hard for the prices here,” says Nikutta. “This is due to the politicians in the city,” she explains. “We have a lot of not-so-well-off people in the city. At the end, the politician wants both. They want to have the money they need … but then they don’t want to have high prices.
“It’s a really big challenge for us.”
One area where they have made cost-reductions is in staffing. In 1991 they had nearly 28,000 employees and today they are just over 13,000. “But the transport capacity is at the same level,” says Nikutta. “This is really a point of productivity of the employees.”