The municipal bus company Eswe Verkehr is saying goodbye to its claim to ensure the micromobility of citizens in the state capital. The tender procedure for the establishment of a new bicycle rental system is surprisingly discontinued altogether. This means that there will be no replacement for the municipal service "Mein Rad", which was established in the summer of 2018 but is highly loss-making and which Eswe Verkehr discontinued a year ago. In total, the trial with the 600 rental bicycles had cost Wiesbaden around 1.4 million euros. The popularity was moderate, the deficit got out of hand. At the time, Eswe Verkehr Managing Director Jan Görnemann spoke of the need to press the "reset button" in order to make a fresh start with an experienced partner in spring 2023, but then with modern and attractive e-bikes.

Oliver Bock

Correspondent of the Rhein-Main-Zeitung for the Rheingau-Taunus-Kreis and for Wiesbaden.

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However, this would probably have cost a subsidy of 850,000 euros this year and one million euros each in the following years. Money that Eswe does not have and does not want to spend in view of the uncertain budget situation of the city in 2024 and beyond. This is because Eswe Verkehr's already considerable deficit will be greater than expected in the current year, and the municipal company will have to concentrate on returning to the usual regular timetable as soon as possible from the continuously valid Saturday timetable. Eswe Verkehr has been harassed with this demand for months, also with regard to the Deutschlandticket and other discounted offers in public transport, which result in higher demand.

More services offered by private bus operators

In the meantime, Eswe Verkehr has had to admit that it is not in a position to quickly return to the regular timetable it is used to until 2020 on its own due to the blatant lack of bus drivers. This is because staff turnover remains high, and attracting new employees to work behind the wheel remains difficult. Eswe is therefore abandoning its claim to be able to offer public transport on its own to the extent to which it is accustomed to.

Following a Europe-wide call for tenders, one or more private bus companies are to help out in September. "The commissioning of external companies in the transport service is absolutely necessary in order to return to a stable service provision in the transport service in the short term," says a submission by the head of the transport department and Eswe supervisory board chairman Andreas Kowol (The Greens), which will be discussed by the mobility committee of the city council on Wednesday.

Because the award has not yet been completed, concrete figures are still missing, but the additional costs for commissioning private bus companies are estimated at 3.3 million euros this year and 8.5 million euros in the following years until 2027. This is the duration of the contract period with the contractors. Wiesbaden's politicians demand services that Eswe is not capable of on his own, Görnemann admits. However, he also points out that the ten-minute interval on the main lines, which should be possible again in autumn, means a high level of public transport. Especially with regard to other major cities in Germany. The outsourcing quota of 15 percent of the transport service remains below the upper limit of 20 percent desired by the Supervisory Board, according to Kowol's submission. Görnemann says that in the years leading up to 2019, there were often subcontractors serving Eswe lines. In other large cities, outsourcing is common.

"We do a lot for our employees"

However, Eswe Verkehr wants to continue and intensify its efforts to attract drivers. For the next three to four years, however, there is little hope that new drivers will be recruited to any significant extent due to the high demand in the Rhine-Main region.

However, Görnemann points out that Eswe is making some efforts to be recognized as an attractive employer. "We do a lot for the employees," said the managing director. Additional office containers have just been set up on the company premises, and all employees are to be successively equipped with tablet computers for modern, contemporary corporate communication. In this respect, Eswe Verkehr is "unbelievably behind schedule," says Görnemann, describing the technical equipment in the workforce.

Also because of inflation, high wage agreements and increased fuel costs, Eswe Verkehr's business plan is coming under pressure. The current additional requirement is estimated at 3.5 million euros, which increases the annual loss to 57.6 million euros. Nevertheless, the treasurer can remain calm because the additional expenditure can be financed for the most part from unspent grants in the 2021 financial year.