Sharing the steering wheel

Germany might be a car-crazy country, but it can also be a prohibitively expensive place to have your own ride. Rhea Wessel reports on the growing interest in car-sharing services.

Sharing the steering wheel
Photo: DPA

Faced with a daily commute from Heidelberg to Bensheim, Ana Isabel Eichel opted for culture over a larger carbon footprint.

Although the young employee of a communications consulting company prefers city living, Eichel still wanted access to a car so that she could enjoy hikes in the nearby woods and have the ability to transport a piece of furniture or a large amount of groceries on occasion.

But she calculated it would cost her roughly €400 to €500 a month to own and operate her own car, leading her to spend a bit more on an apartment that was close to the city centre and join a car-sharing scheme. By doing so, she now lives within walking or biking distance to the Heidelberg’s cultural offerings while helping eliminate the carbon emissions from her 70-kilometre commute.

Germany’s well-developed urban public transport networks are enabling more people like Eichel to make car sharing a permanent part of their personal mobility.

“We are working to gain access to more parking spaces in central locations to meet the growing demand for car sharing,” Willi Loose, the head of the Federal Association of Car Sharing, told The Local.

According to his umbrella organisation, some 150,000 people in Germany belong to car-sharing programmes that make 4,500 vehicles available for short-term rentals, such as one hour or one day. Such types of car hire usual require membership, and hourly fees cover petrol costs, a certain number of kilometers and insurance. Drivers have the benefit of easy access to a car without bearing the cost for owning, parking and repairing the vehicle.

Loose says car sharing could be of interest up to two million people in Germany, if the numbers in neighbouring Switzerland are any indication. The small Alpine country was one of the first places to experiment with car sharing, and it remains quite popular there.

But a lack of parking spaces in major German city centres is holding back the expansion of car sharing, Loose believes. In addition, Loose says car sharing is not on the agenda for most politicians: “They give lip service to the idea but don’t do much more.”

Still, that’s not slowing the ever growing number of car-sharing offerings.

Some of the larger operators include Stadtmobil in Berlin, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Hannover and Frankfurt, as well as several other locations; cambio CarSharing in Aachen, Berlin, Bielefeld, Bremen, Hamburg and Cologne; Greenwheels in Berlin, Braunschweig, Chemnitz, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Jena, Nuremberg and Rostock; and Deutsche Bahn’s subsidiary DB Carsharing, available in about 100 cities across the country.

Originally designed for individuals, many companies are also using specially designed car-sharing services as well. According to Loose, some 25 percent of car sharing is now for business.

Veteran user Eichel revealed a few tips to The Local about how to make car sharing work best. She recommends booking early, even though car-sharing services are typically designed so that drivers order cars at the spur of the moment for short trips.

There’s never a guarantee that a car will be available when a driver wants it, but Eichel has never once gone without when she wanted one.

Often, members book online and can easily reserve vehicles with a few clicks of the mouse 24-hours a day. Eichel uses the Stadtmobil website to book cars at any of the three vehicle stations that are close to her home. She chooses the station based on where she’s headed and which cars are available.

In addition, drivers should be wary that it’s easy to underestimate the time you’ll need a vehicle. To keep yourself from having to watch the clock when you’re out with a car, book the vehicle one hour longer than you expect to need it.

“Although you pay by the hour, you shouldn’t always worry if you’re paying a few euros more or less,” said Eichel. “You’re saving anyway compared to the cost of owning a car.”

If you are interested in car sharing, the best way to select a service provider is to scout for parking spaces close to the place you’ll be renting from, such as your home. Also be sure to see what types of vehicles various companies offer close by.

And if there’s no station where you need one, don’t be shy about asking a car-sharing company to set one up. Being proactive is the best way to drive growing demand for car sharing.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.