How Thursday’s bus strike in Berlin will affect you

Buses in the German capital were at a standstill Thursday as a strike got underway, resulting in other services such as U-Bahn trains being packed out.

How Thursday's bus strike in Berlin will affect you
Passengers leaving a packed-out train at Alexanderplatz Station on Thursday. Photo: DPA.

Trade union Verdi had called earlier this week for bus drivers at Berlin's public transport operator, the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG), to down their tools and walk out as part of a so-called ‘warning strike'.

SEE ALSO: Passengers face disruption as bus drivers in Berlin set to strike

The industrial action started at around 3.30am and was due to last until 10pm. The strike is being held to put pressure on BVG in the current wage negotiations between employers and the union.

Verdi announced that no buses operated by BVG were in operation on Thursday, signalling that the strike was strong.

“The goal is to use this warning strike to increase the pressure on employers in the current negotiations,” Verdi negotiator Jeremy Arndt said.

BVG is the largest municipal transport company in Germany and, with more than 2.9 million customer trips per day, it's the backbone of Berlin's local public transport system.

If you’re travelling in the capital, here's how the strike might affect you, and details of the other services you can use instead of buses.

SEE ALSO: Public service strikes continue as Potsdam talks fail

S-Bahn and regional trains

S-Bahn and regional trains will run this Thursday according to the timetable. These trains are not operated by the BVG, but by Deutsche Bahn and other companies.

Rail replacement services (SEV) on these lines will not be affected. “The S-Bahn does not use BVG buses for replacement transport, it is not affected”, said S-Bahn spokeswoman Sandra Spieker, reported the Berliner Zeitung.

Information sign shows that a bus strike is ongoing. Photo: DPA

U-Bahn and trams

Unlike the strike that took place in February, on Thursday underground trains (U-Bahn) and trams will not be affected. But services are much busier than usual as many people have switched to these modes of transport.

However, replacement services that use buses are affected. The replacement service for the M4 and M13 tram lines will also be on strike, BVG's Jannes Schwentu told the Berliner Zeitung.

It is also expected that replacement services for the underground lines U1, U8 and U9 will start later in the evening. Normally they start at 10 or 11pm, but at the beginning there may be some restrictions.

Private bus companies

The BVG buses will remain off the roads on Thursday. The warning strike lasts until 10 pm, after which it may take some time for all buses to operate normally.

SEE ALSO: IN PICTURES: Berlin public transport strike ends but more disruption expected

Only the routes used by BVG contractors are in operation throughout the day. These are routes 106, 161, 162, 163, 168, 175, 179, 218, 234, 263, 275, 284, 320, 322, 334, 341, 349, 363, 365, 371, 373, 380, 390 and 399.

The following routes operate with slight restrictions: 112, 140, 184, 283, 370 and 893. These routes are operated by private bus companies commissioned by the BVG. These companies are not affected by the tariff dispute.

Emergency shuttle service to Tegel airport

There will be a bus shuttle to Tegel Airport – this time from Jakob-Kaiser-Platz underground station, not from Jungfernheide station as was the case with the first strike in February.

“The Jakob-Kaiser-Platz underground station is half a kilometre closer to the airport,” airport spokesman Daniel Tolksdorf told the Berliner Zeitung.

The so-called “emergency shuttle service” will again use four coaches and will run from 5 am to 11 pm. Tolksdorf recommended scheduling more time for the trip to Tegel Airport in case of longer waiting times or busy services.

Why are workers striking?

Among other things, Verdi wants to implement a 36.5-hour working week with full wage compensation for the approximately 14,000 employees of BVG and its subsidiary Berlin Transport. Today, almost half of the employees have to work 39 hours — these are workers who have been hired since 2005. 

Negotiations have failed so far despite offers by BVG to the trade union.

The latest strike comes during a wave of industrial action sparked by separate disputes that's resulted in office and school closures around the country as well as flights being grounded.

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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.