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Why e-mobility still has no chance in Berlin

Klaus Esterluss
August 25, 2017

Our author recently took his first spin in an electric car in Berlin. Now he's wondering why these cars are a rare sight in the city. It's about more than just their reach.

Electric vehicles stand at a charging station in Berlin
Image: imago/A. Prost
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Woitas

It's been a wet summer here in Berlin, much to the annoyance of many of the city's inhabitants. But maybe I shouldn't complain: I have the rain to thank for prompting me to try something new on my way home from work recently.

It was coming down hard that day, so I had left taken the unusual step (for me, anyway) of leaving my bike at home. I hopped onto a tram to get back from work instead. 

Get out of the train, and into the car

So there I am, sitting in the tram, watching the rain outside, when in my boredom, I opened my car-sharing app. I scrolled over the map view of one of the car-sharing providers operating in Berlin. And what do I see? One station ahead, there is an electric car waiting.

Without thinking much, I got out of the train and into the electric car. I'd never driven one before, so I thought: that's exciting, isn't it? 

What can I say? It's a blast driving an electric car.

At that moment, I didn't give too much thought to the debate about whether electric cars are - like gasoline and diesel cars - bad for the environment. The question came up a bit later, after I read the following Swedish study

Still, I've been renting electric cars ever since that first try impromptu spin. I'm a fan. Why? Because the cars are fast, quiet, and a bit futuristic. Everything new is sexy. Almost 500 of these vehicles are currently available for rent in Berlin. In principle, each car operator has at least a few e-cars to offer. But 500? Isn't that an insanely low figure?

Where are they?

I wonder if Berlin could probably benefit from having more electric cars on the streets. Just think of what they could do for or against fine particles, pollution or allergies. But where are they? Why don't we see more of them?

There are several reasons for this and the even extend to me.

The first problem is that I have no idea where I would recharge my e-car. Maybe I could hang a very long cable from my kitchen window down to the street below, plug the car in and wait 17 hours? That would be the case if I were to charge a Volkswagen e-Golf with my home socket.

Other solutions, such as quick-loading boxes for homes, are probably not installable in an ordinary apartment block. So, establishing charging stations in my area seem to be the only possible choice.

But there are none.

In my immediate neighborhood, Weißensee, not a single charging station exists. In the wider area, I see about five of them. In the whole district of Pankow, of which Weißensee is part, 14 charging stations are available. And that area is really big.

Another problem is, of course, the range. When I get off the tram like I did on that recent rainy day and ride a silly three stations with the electric car home because it's fun that's an entirely different story to going on a real journey through, let's say, the entirety of Germany.

So, do I want an electric car? Yes. But, would I buy one? Not at all.

What I'm looking for is a comfortable, fast, spacious, affordable and easily charged vehicle. I'm afraid my search would lead to depressing results.

If e-cars could tick those boxes, perhaps the statistics for Berlin would be much different. In 2009, there were only 22 electric cars in the city. Today almost 1450 are on the streets. Compared to the 1.2 million passenger cars that are reportedly licensed, that's nothing.

As an e-car fan and driver one remains exotic. What a pity.