German transport operator Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) and ViaVan, a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz Vans and Via, have joined forces to form a rideshare research and development collaboration.

The pilot project, scheduled to start in spring next year, will offer an on-demand ridesharing service involving an initial fleet of 50 Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the eastern part of inner-city Berlin, in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg districts.

Passengers will use an app to call a local public transport vehicle at short notice to an agreed point. A large proportion of BVG's existing stops, as well as additional virtual stopping points, for example at junctions, will be built into the virtual network of possible stops for the new on-demand shuttle service. The aim is to expand the fleet during the course of the project to 300 vehicles.

The project in Berlin represents the first time close integration of ridesharing and local public transport has been offered on such a wide scale. It will involve a range of different requested routes being packaged together. Each journey starts and ends at a virtual stop and is shared with other passengers.

The algorithms created by software experts from Via allow the system to calculate in real time which journeys can practicably be packaged together without too many diversions.

The digital tariff for the concept is made up of a basic rate plus a distance-based supplement, so pricing the service somewhere between the classic rate for local public transport and a taxi fare.

Booking the journey by app ensures the price that will ultimately be charged is known when the booking is made and does not then change. If one person books a journey for several passengers together, a further discount becomes applicable.

The fleet is provided by Mercedes-Benz and will initially involve Vito and V-Class vans (Euro 6) with up to eight seats, plus all-electric Mercedes B-Class B250e cars with four seats.

From next summer, the fleet will be enhanced by the arrival of the new, all-electric eVito Tourer, which will go into use in Berlin as the very first locally emission-free minibus operating anywhere in the world. 

During the course of the collaboration, which has initially been agreed for a period of around two years, the aim is to add the ability to request a vehicle with disabled access.

The BVG has applied for approval of the new transport proposal with reference to the experimental clause of Germany's Passenger Transportation Act.