Rail commuters in Germany are reeling from repeated train strikes. But car and bus companies are deeply thankful to the trade union and the Deutsche Bahn for their endless talks, nicknamed the "Game of Trains."
Marthe Schmidt lives in a small town along the Sieg river in western Germany. The doctoral student spends nearly three hours every day, traveling by train through the lush forests and valleys of the Rhine-Sieg region to her university in Bonn.
"Traveling by train is very practical," she says. "I use my student ticket. I can relax and read a book or a newspaper, and of course, it's ecologically friendly. I'd travel by train any day rather than use gas," she insists.
Like Marthe, a huge percentage of Germany's 30 million commuters, who take the train to work on a regular basis, have had to look for other options ever since the Deutsche Bahn's (DB) train drivers' union GDL began striking last year demanding a pay hike and reduced working hours. The union's latest walkout, which began on May 19, is open-ended - potentially longer than the record six-day stoppage at the beginning of this month.
A #Bahnstreik isn't all that bad - for private operators
How does one get to work, school or university - wherever one is headed - when trains aren't running? Taking a taxi to work, or renting a car, is hardly affordable over the course of a week or more.
"I don't have any other option other than taking my car to university," Marthe says. "Or I need to coordinate my schedule so I can finish my work from home."
Strike victims, like Marthe Schmidt, are now warming to the idea of car-sharing, from asking their neighbors for a lift to registering on a car-sharing website, more of which are using the strike to advertise their services. "Train strike: Flinc can help," tweets Flinc, a company helping commuters find a ride.
Car and bus operator websites have registered a four-fold increase in the number of users and three times more passengers, like bus operator company Deinbus.de. The company has also had to employ new staff to attend to the increasing number of phone calls and to help passengers with information and luggage, Jessica Masik, Deinbus' press officer tells DW.
The train strike's nice little 'side effect'
Car rental companies like Sixt would like to believe that the GDL will continue their walkout. Indeed, the firm is so thankful to GDL boss, Claus Weselsky, that he's been declared employee of the month.
Bus operator Deinbus.de went so far as to name a bus after the trade union boss. "We admire Mr. Weselsky for his strong will, with which he represents his train drivers. And of course, when two people fight, the third is happy," says Deinbus' Jessica Masik. A nice "side effect" of the strike is that many commuters traveling long distances turn to bus operators in times of need, she adds.
Like most private firms working overtime to fill the gap left by DB's shunted trains, Masik is unwilling to disclose how many customers the company has actually had, but numbers increased almost three-fold when GDL employees struck last time, she said.
The unaffected in the "Game of Trains"
Strange as it may sound, many passengers have not at all been affected by the strike. Private rail companies, like the Mittelrheinbahn (MRB), have long serviced short- and medium-distance routes throughout Germany; they are unaffected by the GDL actions.
"We were never a part of the strike," says Maik Seete, spokesman for Nordwestbahn and the Mittelrheinbahn (MRB). The private company's employees have not been part of the GDL strike, which only involves GDL members working with Deutsche Bahn, Seete adds.
Seete's company has earned a reputation of being dependable even when almost all of the country has been reeling under the consequences of train drivers refusing to work.
Meanwhile, the never-ending negotiations between GDL's Claus Weselsky and Deutsche Bahn chief Rüdiger Grube led one inventive radio station to nickname the conflict "The Game of Trains."