In the countryside, many people depend on the car. How can you enable them to be climate-friendly and affordable? For the series "The Mobilizers " we have looked at initiatives that are trying.

Between the small communities of Legden, Schöppingen, Heek and Ahaus, 20 kilometers from the Dutch border and 50 kilometers from Münster, runs the oldest citizens' bus in Germany: Volunteers have offered regular bus services for almost 35 years. From Monday to Friday, between 7am and 6pm, the minibus runs every hour between Legden via a total of eight villages and 38 stops to Ahaus and back - filling a gap in public transport. Only eight people can be taken per tour. Too little, said the chairman of the Bürgerbusvereines, Egon Kiehl, the offer was very popular .

Here the citizen bus drives


ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Kiehl, your citizen bus has been around for almost 35 years. How do you last so long?

Egon Kiehl: By nurturing and caring for the volunteer drivers and giving them a lot of appreciation. These people are the most important thing, everything else is secondary. They are the ones who reliably have to be at the first stop at 7 o'clock in the morning and stop the bus in the evening. They make sure that everyone here in the region can be mobile and, for example, drive to the city for a doctor or a visit to the hospital. They ensure that all passengers arrive safely and punctually. And I have to say: In almost 35 years there has never been a ride!

ZEIT ONLINE: That sounds like you are more reliable than Deutsche Bahn. How do you do that?

Kiehl: We currently have about 40 drivers and we need that many to keep the timetable. You drive in shifts of two hours, because that's how long a tour takes back and forth. Then the next takes over. All drivers are members of our citizen bus club, also the former ones. We have internally determined that you should not drive at 80 years.

ZEIT ONLINE: How did it start with the citizen bus?

Kiehl: The idea actually comes from the Netherlands, where since 1977 there are the so-called Buurtbusse - neighborhood buses. The state government here in NRW 1983 drove the establishment of citizen buses. They wanted to close a gap in public transport, because for the municipal transport operation has not worth a route to many small villages.

ZEIT ONLINE: May citizens just run a bus line?

Kiehl: To drive the citizen bus, you only need a normal driver's license, because we use a minibus. Therefore, only eight people can ride. What our drivers need, however, is a passenger ticket, which we can simply apply for as an association, provided that a police certificate of good conduct and a health certificate are available. The health check must be renewed every three years for everyone under the age of 65, and at shorter intervals thereafter. And the drivers get from us as an association in addition to tickets and change a briefing in the vehicle and the track.

ZEIT ONLINE: Who are the drivers, why do they do that?

Kiehl: Most are retirees, but also housewives. You have to have time during the day. But we also have younger and younger people, people in their late twenties, who often cover the marginal times. But here it comes to change, because younger people change jobs and move away. Or because they start a family and have no time for volunteering with small children. But we do not have a large fluctuation. Most drive citizenship buses until they are not allowed to. Just recently, two female drivers were eliminated because they turned 80 years old. They were already involved in the founding of the Bürgerbusses.

Everyone behind the wheel knows that they enjoy driving - after all, such a bus is quite agile - and that they have sought a meaningful task. People want to get involved in their homeland and help others. And then it comes to the fact that it is interesting to drive the citizen bus. No tour is like the other. You can talk to people from the neighborhood and get to know the region again, even if you have lived here all your life.