All aboard: Germany's 9€ ticket is coming!
Berlin, May 13: A summer of cheap travel is approaching. For three months starting June 1, public transport across Germany is slated to cost just nine euros ($9.50) per month. That covers all modes of city and regional transport.
For comparison, the 27 euros passengers can pay for the ticket over the three-month period is about half the cost of the cheapest monthly ticket for Berlin's inner zones.
The ticket, called "9 for 90," (9€ for 90 days) is a response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which put even more pressure on already high energy prices. Part of a larger package of financial relief, it aims to reduce gasoline consumption and promote climate-neutral travel by public transport.
"Every person who uses public transport contributes to weaning our country off Russian energy and bringing us closer to climate neutrality," said Transport Minister Volker Wissing following a meeting with state-level counterparts earlier this month.
The federal government's bill would provide 2.5 billion euros to finance the three-month program. The lower and upper houses of parliament are scheduled to vote on the measure later this month, and it is expected to pass.
Cross the city — and the country
"This might tempt more people, longer-term, to take public transport rather than their car," Jon Worth, a rail advocate, told DW. "And it will even work for tourists too; anyone can buy these passes."
While foremost intended for commuters to get around locally without their gas-guzzling cars, the subsidized ticket can get you much further. For those with time to spare and unfazed by multiple changes, all of Germany — and even some points just across its borders — would be reachable for nine euros.
"Even if it's an attractive, albeit limited, offer, the cheap price alone will not increase the switch to public transport. For a long time, the German Tourism Association has been demanding a fast and committed expansion of rail and mass transit infrastructure, better connections and more frequent service. That's what will really trigger a transition," Huberta Sasse, a spokesperson for the German Tourism Association, told DW in a statement.
Benefit for commuters in urban areas only
13 million daily commuters in Germany use regional trains operated y Deutsche Bahn, the national public railway. They routinely complain about overcrowded trains, poor service, delayed trains and canceled routes. In response, the company says service interruptions are partly due to track work that will improve conditions in the long run.
"With new and newly designed trains, we are increasing capacity and comfort, and improving passenger information. This continual modernization is a constant boost in attraction for rail and mass transit — including for the period of the nine-euro ticket," Maria Menz, a railway spokesperson, told DW in a statement.
It's unclear how the nine-euro ticket will affect demand. In a recent poll for public broadcaster ARD, 44% of people in Germany say they definitely or probably want to use this ticket. 60% of city dwellers say so compared to under 40% in rural areas.
The ticket is expected to have little impact on suburban and rural areas, where residents have far fewer public transport options than cities and rely more heavily on cars. The spokesperson for local administrations, Rainhard Sager, criticized the government's plan as a political move that would take a lot of effort to implement and wouldn't lead to lasting change. Better, he told the DPA news agency, to invest the billions on improving infrastructure and service.
Local transport companies, while welcoming the political attention, have complained of administrative headaches. They have to develop new platforms for selling the special ticket, and passengers with an existing monthly pass need to be compensated for the difference during the three-month period.
No long-term impact?
The biggest unknown is what happens after August. In its coalition agreement, the federal government agreed to increase its financial support for local transport. That was before inflation and war caused energy prices to skyrocket. Neither the Transport nor Finance Ministries, both controlled by the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), have made firm financial commitments beyond the nine-euro ticket.
"We're worried that, following this lovely, special offer, ticket prices will go through the roof, because the costs of energy and fuel are rising drastically," Winfried Hermann, the transport minister for the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, said at the ministers' conference earlier this month.
Despite the uncertainties and details left to work out, many rail and climate advocates are hopeful that a cheap way to get around this summer will be enough to convince more people to leave their cars at home.
"Many of those involved are doing everything in their power to organize in such a way that these three months will proceed as practically as possible — and that especially those passengers using mass transit for the first time won't be put off by the experience," Peter Cornelius, the head of the Berlin chapter of Pro Bahn, a passenger rights group, told DW.
The nine-euro ticket may be available for purchase as early as May 20.