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Germany

Green Taxis Take to Berlin's Streets

For the past two years, the German government has begun using subsidies to hook taxi drivers and driving teachers on on natural gas cars.

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The capital can already boast 100 green taxis

How do you cut down on greenhouse gas emissions in a country where the car remains the status symbol par excellence?

The German government has tackled the issue by introducing subsidies that entice taxi drivers and driving school teachers into using the natural gas cars. Less than two years since the pilot program was introduced, 100 "green" taxis are now plying the streets of Berlin.

In order to live up to its commitments to the Kyoto Protocol Germany is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically. "TUT," an acronym that stands for "one thousand environmental taxis for Berlin," may help the government to reach that goal.

Two years ago, the Ministry of the Environment signed the TUT agreement with the city senate and Berlin gas companies that put natural gas-run taxis on the capital’s streets. TUT aims to bring the number of green taxis up to a thousand in the next few years. Taxi drivers and driving schools can apply for up to 4,600 euros for a car and for gas.

Although a car run on natural gas remains rather expensive, the gas is nearly 20 percent cheaper than diesel or gasoline. It also produces fewer emissions: 25 percent less carbon dioxide and half as much carbon monoxide. On top of that, the cars are quieter than diesel- or gasoline-run cars.

Money makes it worthwhile

According to Elke Lohmeyer, the owner of the 100th natural gas taxi in Berlin, TUT makes it worthwhile to buy a natural gas-run car: “We get subsidies that we don’t have to pay back, and when does somebody gives you money that you don’t have to pay back?" she told DW-RADIO. "(The money is) both for the car, as well as for natural gas coupons, so that we can practically drive for free for a while.”

In the meantime, 12 gas stations in Berlin provide natural gas pumps to TUT-participants. Five major car manufacturers produce relatively affordable cars that run either exclusively on natural gas or have an additional gasoline tank. So why aren’t more such cars out on the road?

A spokeswoman from the Berlin gas works says there are several problems.

“At the moments the hitches are that gas stations haven’t been built in Germany," he said. "They’re planned but not yet there. And that the German producers aren’t taking part as we would like them to. It costs money to do something new, and people have a hard time with that.”

TUT isn’t just meant to turn taxi drivers and driving teachers on to more environmentally-friendly vehicles though. In the long run private people are the focus. Cars funded by TUT also function as moving billboards with ads saying that they run on natural gas.

Elke Lohmeyer says the effect can't be underestimated.

“A lot of people approach me, and, of course, they notice that the car is new and then they see the ad or sometimes I point it out to them and then we start to talk and people are really interested,” she said.

Perhaps it's working: The Berlin gas works have already received 100 applications for private sponsorship of natural gas-run vehicles that are just waiting to be processed.

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