9-euro ticket: Germany winds down experiment with low-cost train travel
To help people deal with record inflation, this summer Germany offered a sharply discounted fare for local and regional public transit. Was the project a success? It depends on what you wanted out of it.
The public-transportation ticketing system in Germany is so complicated, that there’s even a song about it. In “Out of Bempflingen,” the Swabian a cappella group “Chor der Mönche” (Choir of Monks) sing of their struggles crossing the no man’s land between two of the country’s regional transport networks.
“No one’s at the desk/Where’s a ticket machine?/Getting a ticket from Metzingen to Bempflingen isn’t easy,” the German group sings of the towns in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg just five kilometres (3.1 miles) apart from each other.
Unable to figure out what ticket to buy, they throw in the towel and walk instead. “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 3-month experiment with ultracheap, streamlined public transportation ticketing. Rather than navigating Germany’s 60+ tariff 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? Just €9 ($9) a month.
The measure, which German magazine Der Spiegel described as “the largest experiment Germany has ever undertaken on its local public transport system,” took people by surprise. The federal government announced it in March as part of a relief package developed to help consumers deal with record-high inflation.
Quick decisions are a rarity in German politics. Major policy moves generally follow long negotiation periods and lengthy consultations with experts and stakeholders.
The 9-euro ticket was an exception, taking even the transportation companies by surprise. As the pilot project wraps up on Wednesday, many are reflecting on the whirlwind summer and whether the nationwide ticket was a success.
“That depends on the goal. What was the goal of the project?” Jonathan Laser, the senior consultant at civity Management Consultants, a Berlin-based management consulting firm specialising in the public sector, told DW. “If it was to ease the financial burden of citizens, I would say yes. If the goal was marketing [public transportation], that’s also a yes. But if the goal was sustainability, I would say no.”
Price attracted new customers
Over 52 million tickets were sold over the three-month period, according to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV). An additional 10 million people received the discount automatically via preexisting subscriptions to local transportation networks. Such subscriptions cost around €80 a month in major German cities, according to ADAC, Germany’s largest motorists’ association. Over the three summer months, these travellers automatically saved over €200.
The deal also pulled in many new passengers. According to a VDV survey, 15% of 9-euro ticket users said that without the special price they wouldn’t have taken the trips that they did.
“Millions of people living off of pensions, state welfare or low salaries are normally denied [the luxury of travel],” Ulrich Schneider, CEO of the Paritätischer Gesamtverband — social work and welfare association — wrote in an opinion essay. “And they will be denied it again when this ticket offer expires.”
The rate of inflation in Germany also went down slightly during the experiment, an effect the country’s statistics office attributed in part to the low fare.