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Revolution or banishment - this is how taxis should now be green

Revolution in an ultra-conservative industry: The Uber operator Thomas Mohnke, together with other taxi and rental car companies, is starting the dawn of a new era.

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Revolution or banishment - this is how taxis should now be green

Revolution in an ultra-conservative industry: The Uber operator Thomas Mohnke, together with other taxi and rental car companies, is starting the dawn of a new era. Nationwide, companies want to convert around 3,000 vehicles to a CO₂-neutral drive. "We are willing to make advance payments and hope that we can use this to convince the industry," says the Berlin entrepreneur. "We also need political support for this."

As general contractor, Mohnke organizes the Uber service in Germany. In addition to the drivers of his company Safedriver, thousands of employees from other rental car companies are on the road for the Californian mobility provider under his direction. Mohnke has just ordered 200 hydrogen vehicles for its own operations, 70 of which are already on the road. The advantage of the car is that it can be refueled quickly, he says.

Electric cars with batteries are also suitable for two-shift operation - provided they can be charged at fast charging stations. With the exception of a few S-Classes from Mercedes-Benz, his fleet of around 500 vehicles already consists exclusively of electric cars, says Mohnke.

In Berlin, he loads them onto pillars on his own company premises at Anhalter Bahnhof. This makes his company Safedriver an exception in the industry. The taxi fleet in Germany in particular is still mainly on the road with petrol and diesel engines.

Mohnke knows the business better than almost anyone else. The 65-year-old from Berlin bought his first taxi as a student at the age of 20. In the 1990s he built up one of Berlin's largest taxi services. He was the operator of the Bundestag transport service and drives his limousines for almost all federal ministries.

Working with Uber has brought Mohnke a lot of trouble; For a long time, politicians and the taxi lobby have been fighting hard against the liberalization of passenger transport in Germany. Nevertheless, the entrepreneur wants to push his industry to the next modernization.

Taxis and rental cars should move away from combustion engines as quickly as possible, i.e. become electric. It's about almost 100,000 cars in the country, which cover millions of kilometers a year, especially in the cities, blowing a lot of CO2 into the air. And it's about a completely fragmented industry with more than 32,000 individual entrepreneurs, as figures from the Federal Ministry of Transport show.

In order to make the transition easier for their competitors, the entrepreneurs behind the “Green Mobility? Yes, please” give away electricity. Safedriver operates four fast-charging stations centrally near Potsdamer Platz. "We promise every taxi driver who switches to electromobility that he can charge there for free for a year," says Mohnke.

The drive for the entrepreneurs behind the campaign is not only climate and environmental protection, they are also concerned with securing their own business. Because the days of diesel taxis in the city center are coming to an end faster than many in the industry previously thought.

The city council of Munich has just decided to ban diesel vehicles of emission classes Euro 5 and older from October 1, 2023 in the city center and the Mittlerer Ring. There is still a transitional regulation for taxis, but from April 2024 they will also be over. The fact that metropolises will eventually ban internal combustion engines completely from the city center is already being discussed. By then at the latest, taxi and rental car providers will no longer have an alternative to converting their fleets.

It is better, therefore, to prepare for it beforehand – and use the support from politicians. The entrepreneurs of the initiative complain, however, that this is going back. The traffic light coalition has extended subsidies for electric cars. However, payments to commercial fleet operators are scheduled to end on September 1, 2023. "We still need the support of the environmental bonus," demands Mohnke and calculates that 100,000 new electric cars will cost around four billion euros.

He also proposes a few measures that favor e-cars in the fleet, but do not cost the state any money. Munich and Hamburg airports have already implemented one of these steps: In the taxi queue there are one or two spaces at the very front where only electric taxis are allowed to drive. You can then drive past all the other cars in the waiting area and pick up passengers more quickly.

In Munich last summer, this caused trouble among the taxi drivers who felt disadvantaged. The protest confirms Mohnke's judgments about his own taxi industry: he considers it to be rigid and hostile to innovation. In the '90s he sold his taxi company in Berlin, which at one point had 660 cars, because he couldn't take it, he says, at the time the drivers fought against the radio in the car - and wanted to hold on to the speakerphones.

Today, he and his colleagues believe the conditions are better, because around a sixth of the companies now drive taxis as well as Uber and similar providers - officially rental cars with a driver. The initiative also wants to make things easier for these providers and is now arguing with environmental reasons.

Electric rental cars should be allowed to use the bus lanes with passengers like taxis, and Mohnke also wants to discuss the old controversial issue of the obligation to return as part of his e-offensive. So far, rental car drivers like those from Uber have been obliged to return to the company premises after a tour. "This alone means that a million kilometers are unnecessarily covered every day in Germany," complains Mohnke. At least for e-cars, the regulation should be lifted, he demands.

It is questionable whether he will find the Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) willing to listen. The coalition agreement states in very general terms that “digital mobility services, innovative mobility solutions and car sharing … will be supported”. As a minister, Wissing has not yet spoken about a reform of the Passenger Transport Act.

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