October 2, 2022

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Germany ends experiment with cheap public transport tickets. Even the Germans complain about the conditions on the trains

One of the conclusions of the experiment is that even the Germans complain about the conditions in the trains: overcrowding, broken air conditioning and long delays, writes Deutsche Welle.

To help people cope with record inflation, Germany this summer offered a deeply discounted fare for local and regional public transport. Was the project a success? It depends on what you wanted from him.

Germany’s public transport ticketing system is so complicated, there’s even a song about it. In “Out of Bempflingen,” the Swabian a cappella group “Chor der Mönche” (Choir of Monks) sing about their struggles crossing the no-man’s land of two of the country’s regional transportation networks.

No one is at the desk/Where is a ticket machine?/Getting a ticket from Metzingen to Bempflingen is not easy“, the German group sings about the towns in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, located only five kilometers from each other.

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Unable to figure out what kind of ticket to buy, they give up and walk to their destination. “It’s actually a true story,” Michael Niedhammer, one of the band members, told DW.

This summer, things were different. August 31 marks the end of Germany’s three-month experiment with ultra-cheap tickets and simplified procedures for public transport.

Instead of navigating Germany’s more than 60 fare and transport networks, from June to August people could travel nationwide on all local and regional buses and trains (long-distance trains were excluded) with a single ticket . The price? Only 9 euros per month.

The move, which German magazine Der Spiegel described as “the biggest experiment Germany has ever undertaken with its local public transport system”, took people by surprise.

The federal government announced it in March as part of an aid package developed to help consumers cope with record inflation.

Commuters saved 200 euros in 3 months

Quick decisions are a rarity in German politics. Major policy moves generally follow long periods of negotiation and lengthy consultation with experts and stakeholders.

The 9 euro ticket was an exception, taking even the transport companies by surprise. With the pilot project over, many are wondering if the nationwide discount ticket was a success.

That depends on the objective. What was the purpose of the project?,” said Jonathan Laser, a senior consultant at a Berlin-based management consulting firm specializing in the public sector.

If it was to ease the financial burden of the citizens, I would say yes. If the goal was to promote public transportation, that’s a yes, too. But if the goal was sustainability, I’d say no“, considers the expert.

More than 52 million tickets were sold during the three-month period of the experiment, according to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV).

A further 10 million people received the discount automatically through pre-existing subscriptions to local transport networks. Such subscriptions cost around 80 euros per month in major German cities, according to ADAC, Germany’s largest drivers’ association. During the three summer months, these travelers automatically saved more than 200 euros.

In the country known for the Autobahn, Porsches and Mercedes become a constant and the poor conditions on the trains

The deal also attracted many new passengers. According to a VDV survey, 15% of €9 ticket users said that without the special price they would not have made the journeys they did.

Millions of people living on pensions, welfare or low wages normally refuse the luxury of travel,” wrote Ulrich Schneider, CEO of the Paritätischer Gesamtverband – a social welfare association – in an opinion essay. “And they will be denied again when this ticket offer expires“.

Germany’s inflation rate fell slightly during the experiment, an effect the country’s statistics office attributed in part to the low tariff.

But the news may not have offered much comfort to hot and tired passengers, who took to social media daily this summer to share horror stories of overcrowded trains, broken air conditioning and hours-long delays.

For years, advocates of rail and bus travel have complained that Germany has underinvested in this public service.

In a country better known abroad for its Autobahns and production of Porsches and Mercedes, delayed and crowded trains had become the norm even before the low-cost ticket was introduced.

The federal government has offered Germany’s 16 regional states an additional 2.5 billion euros to compensate for the loss of ticket sales due to the project.

Rail companies complain of underfunding

This figure did not include funding for additional staff or maintenance costs to meet increased demand. With states such as Saxony-Anhalt reporting up to three times more passengers than usual on certain train lines this summer, chronic underinvestment has become apparent.

The €9 ticket has highlighted the problems with regional transport”, said Ralf Damde, head of DB Regio, a regional subsidiary of Germany’s national railway operator Deutsche Bahn.

There are not enough staff and especially too few trains to absorb future passenger growth“, he declared.

Critics of the cheap ticket experiment say the money should have been better spent on developing that infrastructure.

We need every extra euro to expand and improve the service so that local public transport becomes a suitable mobility alternative for everyday use”, said Reinhard Sager, president of the Association of German Districts.

10% of the 1 billion train journeys have replaced the use of a car

Despite uncomfortable travel conditions as the project winds down, many are advocating an extension of the reduced fares, especially in light of the country’s recent failure to meet its carbon footprint reduction goals.

Around 10% of the roughly 1 billion monthly journeys made using the €9 ticket have replaced the use of a car, according to VDV figures.

This prevented about 1.8 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere during the campaign, the association said in a press release.

Politicians debate whether a similar project is possible and how much it might cost. And the reduced price is only part of the story. The project also showed the value of a simplified ticketing system.

We can talk about the price, but we should also talk about how complex it is to buy a ticket,” said Jonathan Laser. “Do we have to have so many different pricing systems to get a price? Or can we make this easier?

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