With Germany’s €9 ($US9.28) unlimited monthly travel scheme set to expire this month, questions are being asked as to what the future holds.
Introduced in June, the monthly ticket gives holders unlimited access to all city public transport as well as suburban commuter trains and regional services across the country.
The scheme has proved popular with the public, and served to ease the impact of soaring inflation and help get ridership back to pre-COVID levels.
Talk of a possible extension has increased in recent weeks, but thrifty politicians could put the brakes on.
The three-month discounts are estimated to be costing the German government €2.5 billion, and the country’s Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner has been vocal in his opposition to an extension of the ticket.
“Freebie mentality is not sustainably financeable, not efficient and not fair,” Lindner tweeted on 8 August.
Striking a more conciliatory tone, the country’s Transport Minister Völker Wissing said he is open to some kind of permanently reduced offer – but only after a thorough evaluation of the current scheme.
Some proposals for what a successor to the €9 ticket may look like have included a regional ticket for €29 a month, a nationwide ticket for €49 a month, and a €365 annual ticket – but bolder ideas are also being floated.
In a recent study, the Centre for European Policy (CEP) – one of Germany’s leading think tanks – suggested that a distance-based toll system on drivers could raise the revenue needed.
Art Markiv (unsplash)
Using a satellite-based recording of kilometres driven with differences depending on the vehicle class, the think tank estimates €0.069 per kilometre travelled would be a fair charge.
Taking an EU average of 225 kilometres driven per motorist each week, this would amount to a hefty annual charge of over €800.
“The aim of the proposed toll is indeed to create a significant cost incentive for reducing individual car traffic in Germany,” said Andre Wolf, Head of the CEP.
“The 6.9 cent per kilometre is an average value representing the estimated internal and external costs of car traffic across all fuel technologies, road types and times of the day.”
Revenue generated from the toll would amount to €22.7 billion, according to the CEP.
“In our study, we discuss options for varying the toll rate according to these characteristics, to increase incentives not just to eliminate traffic, but also to guide it towards less costly forms.
“The overall ambition is not simply to raise public funds, but to reduce the overall costs of transport to society.”
Wolf says authorities could draw upon the existing system for truck tolls in Germany where a device installed on vehicles receives information on distances travelled through satellite signals, and then transmits the data to the toll system operator.
He added that data security is maintained by unbundling, where the supplier of the on-board unit and the toll system operator must be different entities.
“The European Electronic Toll Service already provides a legal framework at EU level for the emergence of such independent markets,” said Wolf.
“In this way, the type of personal information transferred could be minimised – the information collected and sent by on-board units is restricted to parameters necessary for toll computation.”
The political realities of implementing such a charge at a time of surging inflation and record fuel prices is a challenge, Wolf admitted, especially as not everyone is on board with the €9 ticket to begin with.
“Public acceptance is certainly a critical issue under the current circumstances, but I think that political communication can also seize the opportunity to point out that this is the right moment for a determined switch in our transport system,” he added.
One of the central concepts behind introducing the ticket was that it would lead to a reduction in car use and boost Germany’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2045.
Data on whether this is happening, and if it can be attributed to the ticket, is so far mixed.
Roman Kraft (unsplash)
According to Germany’s Office for National Statistics, the first month of the scheme saw only a slight reduction in road traffic, but a huge increase in rail travel – in June 2022, average rail travel was 42 percent higher than in June 2019.
The highest jump in figures was seen at the weekends, strengthening the argument that people were using the ticket for leisure journeys they may not have otherwise taken.
A recent survey by the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV) in the greater Munich area found just three percent of people had left their cars in favour of local public transport.
A separate study by the association claimed that a quarter of public transport trips taken over the summer would not have been made without the ticket, calling these “additional journeys, not substitute journeys”.
On the other hand, data compiled by navigation company TomTom found that during the week of June 20, rush-hour traffic congestion was down in 23 of 26 cities compared with the week of May 16, with the firm attributing the decrease to the introduction of the ticket.
A survey conducted by research institute Civey found that while 55 percent would like to see an extension of the ticket – 34 percent are against it.
Overcrowding, particularly at weekends, has been frequently cited as one of the biggest problems and questions as to whether the scheme is actually reducing car use are troubling authorities.
Tim Neugebauer, Coordinator of Mobility Projects, City of Mannheim
“We’ve seen enormous problems with overcrowding on the regional suburban trains,” said Tim Neugebauer, Mannheim’s Coordinator of Mobility Projects.
“We haven’t seen significant changes in commuting numbers, which I think is the most important part [of the scheme], and we’re not seeing a decrease in car usage – besides the normal seasonal decrease during the summer break.”
While the city has had a small increase in numbers on its tram and bus services, Neugebauer added that the impact has been “rather small during the classic commuting hours.”
“We’re not seeing car usage being replaced by public transport,” he said.
A similar story has emerged in other German cities, including Hamburg.
“€9 is nearly for free, but car use stayed nearly the same [as before the start of the scheme] and public transport didn’t attract as many people as expected,” said Raimund Brodehl, Deputy Director-General of Hamburg’s Department of Transport and Mobility Transition.
When asked whether the scheme could be deemed a success, Brodehl said this ultimately depended on perspective.
“It is difficult to say – looking solely at ticket sales figures, it is definitely a success, and has been a marketing success.
Raimund Brodehl, Deputy Director-General of Hamburg’s Department of Transport and Mobility Transition
“More than 90 percent of people [in Germany] have heard about the ticket, and everybody is talking about public transport – not always positively, but they still are, and now we have a debate about ticket systems in Germany that are easier to use and that are cheaper for the customers.
“The ticket also provides poorer people with the possibility to take a ride to meet people which was impossible before, so regarding the social aspect, it is definitely a success.
“[But] unfortunately it is not getting people out of cars.”
The post Where next for Germany’s €9 monthly public transport ticket? appeared first on capitaltribunenews.com.