As part of our ‘Just the Ticket’ series which look at international ticketing practices for public transport, Policy advisor Nigel Bagshaw reports on Germany’s D-Ticket: the country’s latest sustainable transport initiative which sees Germans enjoy unlimited bus, rail, tram, underground and ferry travel for one flat price.
What is the Deutschlandticket?
Since 1 May 2023 it has been possible to travel the length and breadth of Germany on just one ticket, the straightforwardly named ‘Deutschlandticket’ (or ‘D-Ticket’). With it you can use all local and regional transport, which means you can travel on any scheduled buses, underground trains, suburban trains, trams and regional trains (but not intercity expresses), and even some ferries.
To buy it, you need to take out a subscription which is automatically renewed every month and can be cancelled monthly.
The plan is for it to be a purely digital ticket available on an app or chip card, with the deadline for allowing paper tickets with QR code passing on 31 December 2023.
It is funded by the federal and state governments and costs just €49 (£45) a month.
Trams, regional trains, buses, even ferries, the D-ticket is valid on them all.
Why was the ticket introduced?
The Deutschlandticket is the follow-up to the 9-Euro-Ticket, a flat-rate ticket offering the same travel options, which was made available in the summer months of 2022, 52 million of which were sold.
Like the €9 ticket, the D-Ticket is intended to relieve the financial burden on people resulting from the sharp rise in energy prices and inflation. It is also intended to significantly increase the attractiveness of public transport and provide an incentive to switch from car to bus and train, and thus help meet climate targets.
What’s the impact?
The D-Ticket has been in place for nine months now, which is a good point at which to weigh up its impact and success – and the initial signs are very positive.
Since its introduction, people are actually travelling more by train, as can be seen from an evaluation of the mobility data by the mobile phone provider O2 Telefónica. It shows a clear increase in train journeys of more than 30 kilometres since the beginning of May, when the ticket was introduced. In June, the number of such journeys was more than 25% higher than in April.
The mobile operator has also measured a ‘perceptible shift from road to rail’ of about 2.5 percentage points. More and more people are leaving their cars behind and switching to the train in particular because with the Deutschlandticket there is no need to worry about fare zones or the areas covered. In fact, it is probably fair to say it has never been so easy to travel from A to B.
A 200 km, 3-hour journey from Berlin to Stralsund – covered.
According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), the Deutschlandticket has indeed been a success – passenger numbers are back up to pre-pandemic levels and customers are being retained like never before. It says that 8-10% of season ticket holders are genuine newcomers to public transport, that is to say most of them were driving previously.
A Yougov survey has found that almost a quarter of German citizens have had the D-Ticket for at least one month. And most users have also changed their mobility behaviour. A third of the respondents have travelled more than before. Almost as many now leave their car at home more often since they have had the D-Ticket. Significant carbon savings have been also made as a result in line with the original targets.
However, it has to be said that the ticket’s undoubted success is by no means unqualified. It is claimed that the figure of around ten million people using the €49 subscription may sound like a lot at first, but actually means only one in eight Germans are using the ticket. In addition, more than half of the customers already had another, more expensive, season ticket and are therefore not new local public transport users, but now simply travelling more cheaply.
It is also claimed that the price of €49 is too high. The ticket mainly relieves the burden on commuters but for young people and also many families it remains too expensive. It makes a big difference whether a family is spending multiples of €49 rather than €9 per person for a weekend trip, for example.
Berlin’s broad underground and suburban rail network is all the easier to navigate with a single, affordable ticket.
Moreover, people in the countryside mainly continue to drive because there are no trains anywhere.
Regular customers are the main beneficiaries and the ticket principally subsidises the middle classes in the affluent commuter belt. There are also claims that only a fraction of the promised carbon reductions has been actually achieved.
Undoubted success but improvements are needed
However, the answers to the problems which the ticket has revealed would appear to be relatively straightforward.
For the scheme to continue to expand there has to be an increase in transport capacity. The Federal Government of Germany and Deutsche Bahn (DB) have in fact unveiled the largest and most comprehensive infrastructure program for the railway network and stations since the railway reform of 1994.
Getting out of town to the lakes and forests on a weekend, included in the price.
In rural areas, public transport both in terms of buses and trains needs to be expanded to compete in terms of cost and reliability, and plans to re-open closed lines are in the pipeline.
The problem of the expense barriers to families could be overcome by a standardised nationwide ticket for less well-off people as well as an affordable offer for children and young people to give those on low incomes access to mobility and thus the social inclusion that they had with the 9-Euro-Ticket.
Reducing the cost of the ticket would also increase fairness and take-up, with research showing that €29 a month would be a price at which the highest sales could be expected.
The incentive to switch from car to public transport needs to be greater. Providing a good scheme whilst continuing to support schemes having the opposite effect makes little sense. In order to have a noticeable effect on the climate, the benefits afforded to car use need to be removed.
In Germany more than three times the cost of the Deutschlandticket is spent on environmentally damaging private motor vehicles in the form of a tax rebate on company cars, a commuter allowance, and a diesel subsidy. There is also a strong case for making public transport more attractive through improved reliability, punctuality and frequency of service.
On a personal level, I have been the proud owner of a Deutschlandticket for five months of its existence. I spend half my life in Berlin at present and love having the ticket and the freedom it gives me. There is no hassle of constantly having to buy an individual ticket and no worries about the additional costs of going anywhere.
That rather pleasant feeling of knowing you’re paying a flat fee.
I use it mainly on the impressively broad suburban rail, underground and tram network in the centre of the capital, but I have also used it to travel out to Berlin’s lakes and outlying districts, and to towns in rural Brandenburg (or even further to Szczecin in Poland and Cheb in the Czech Republic, at no extra charge).
I have used it to cross the Elbe on a ferry and to go visit friends in other German cities on board high-capacity regional trains (at a slow but satisfyingly cheap pace).
Each time I go to Germany I look forward to using my D-Ticket, and each time I return home to the UK I despair that we have nothing like it here.
In contrast with the French, who are so impressed with the success of the German scheme that they intend to introduce their own version of the Deutschlandticket with a view to weaning commuters off carbon-intensive forms of transport, in Scotland we do not yet have plans to introduce anything similar.
We do have free bus travel for over 60s and under 22s, and the scrapping of peak fares on ScotRail services for an initial six-month period is definitely a step forward.
But unfortunately at present all we really have in common with Germany is insufficient investment in bus and rail infrastructure and an obsession with making it easier to use environment-wrecking alternatives.
There really is no reason why we cannot do as the French plan to and follow the German example. Obviously, that would require a change in spending priorities away from road building, which, in a climate crisis, makes complete sense. What we can see from the German D-Ticket is that it is an effective tool to ease the financial burden on households, encourage a switch from road to rail, and make an impact on climate emissions.