Transform’s policy officer Marie Ferdelman reports from Germany on the new 9-Euro-Ticket which was introduced today (1 June).
Paying just over £7.50 for a monthly public transport pass sounds like something that might have last happened in the 1970s. But it is in fact what Germans will be paying from today until the end of August for a monthly public transport ticket.
As part of a package to ease the impact of rising energy costs, the German government, a coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals, has introduced a ‘9-Euro-Ticket’ for public transport for the next three months. This means that from June until the end of August, Germans (or anyone living in or visiting Germany) can take an unlimited number of journeys on all local and regional buses and trains throughout Germany for only €9 per month. All high speed travel is excluded, but if one is prepared to spend significant time on regional transport – nine and a half hours between Munich and Berlin for instance – the ticket allows for travel throughout the entire country.
Cheap public transport is popular
Having just returned to Scotland from a visit to see my family in Germany, the 9-Euro-Ticket was a frequent topic in conversations with friends and family members. Most people I spoke to were planning to buy the ticket. Deutsche Bahn, who are selling the tickets alongside regional transport associations, sold over one million tickets within the first two days of making them available in late May. By 31 May, approximately seven million people who did not previously hold a monthly or yearly season ticket had bought a 9-Euro-Ticket. So there is clearly a lot of enthusiasm amongst occasional or new public transport users for the new ticket.
I heard about lots of people’s plans how they were intending to use the ticket. Some were just looking forward to reducing their transport costs, others were planning to use the ticket to go on holiday further afield, and others who usually never use public transport are planning to use the ticket simply because it is so cheap. And it is hard to overstate how much cheaper the ticket is, especially for occasional users of public transport. In the area that I am from, a single day ticket for local trams and buses costs the same as the 9-Euro-Ticket and for users of a monthly pass the ticket will mean savings of approximately £40 per month.
Structural problems remain
There have of course been voices expressing criticism of the ticket. There is a fear that the 9-Euro-Ticket will lead to overcrowded trains and rather than encouraging more people to take public transport in the future, may put people off using public transport altogether. Anyone following the debate about the new ticket on Twitter will have also come across the not entirely serious and often quite gleeful discussions that the ticket will allow ‘hordes’ of tourists to invade the usually exclusive North Sea island of Sylt and disturb Germany’s millionaires on their holidays.
On a more serious note though, German sustainable transport and environmental organisations have broadly welcomed the introduction of the ticket. They have highlighted that as well as reducing costs for regular users of public transport it is providing an incentive for people who usually do not use public transport to get on their local bus or train. There are hopes after discovering their local public transport network, this may lead some to start using public transport more regularly beyond the end of August. However, they have also emphasised that the 9-Euro-Ticket does not address any of the structural and long term problems that public transport in Germany is facing. Similarly to the situation in the UK, German public transport has suffered from underfunding, closure of rail lines and reductions of bus services to the bare minimum in rural areas.
And before we fall over ourselves proclaiming Germany to be the new sustainable transport nirvana, we should also consider the substantial support to drivers that was also part of this funding package. Next to making public and regional transport close to free, the German government is also giving drivers a large subsidy package by reducing petrol and diesel taxes by 35.2 cents/litre and 16.7 cents/litre respectively. This is expected to cost the German state €3.15 billion, €65 million more than the €2.5 billion it is expected to spend on the 9-Euro-Ticket. And it is clear that the fuel tax cut will primarily benefit those who drive more and bigger cars, which in Germany as in the UK, tend to be the households on higher incomes.
Beyond the 9-Euro-Ticket
The medium-to long term impact of the ticket on travel behaviour and transport costs may be debatable. But making public transport affordable on a simple flat fare ticket for a period of three months to everyone in a country of 82 million presents an unprecedented experiment. There are already studies underway that plan to examine the impact of the ticket. If successful at encouraging more people to use public transport, and especially if these trips are found to replace car trips, the 9-Euro-Ticket will strengthen the argument that low public transport fares are a significant driver for higher uptake. Lowering public transport costs close to zero for three months, will undoubtedly also have an impact on public expectations beyond August and will amplify demands for affordable public transport in the future.
This morning, reports of overcrowded trains and buses have failed to materialise. But the real test will come tomorrow, when a bank holiday will mean that millions of Germans will be able to make full use of the ticket during a long weekend. Whatever the new ticket’s effects are over the next months and in the long run though, it is irrefutable that it has started a conversation about public transport in Germany that is unlikely to have had such a wide impact otherwise. As for me, I can’t wait to get my own 9-Euro-Ticket when I am back in Germany in August!