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Did Germany's 9-euro train and bus ticket pay off?

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Berlin, Aug 30: The public-transportation ticketing system in Germany is so complicated, that there's even a song about it. In "Out of Bempflingen," the Schwabian 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 just five kilometers (3.1 miles) apart from each other.

Did Germanys 9-euro train and bus ticket pay off?

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 31st 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.

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Mission accomplished?

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.

Price attracted new customers

Over 52 million people purchased the ticket, according to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV) — equal to more than 60% of the country's population. 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 travelers automatically saved over €200.

Did Germanys 9-euro train and bus ticket pay off?

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 — a 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.

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Massive demand exposed flaws

But that news was perhaps of little comfort to hot and tired passengers, who daily took to social media this summer to share horror stories of overfilled trains, broken air conditioning and hourslong delays.

For years, proponents of train and bus travel have complained that Germany has underinvested in this public service. In a country better known abroad for its Autobahn highways and manufacturing Porsches and Mercedes, late and crowded trains had started becoming the norm even before the low-cost ticket was introduced.

The federal government provided Germany's regional 16 states with an additional €2.5 billion to compensate for the loss of ticket sales due to the project. That figure did not include funding for added capacity, personnel or upkeep to cater to the increased demand. With states like Saxony-Anhalt reporting up to three times as many passengers as usual on certain train lines this summer, the chronic underinvestment was thrown into sharp relief.

"The 9-euro ticket has cast a spotlight on the problems with regional transportation," said Ralf Damde, the head of the general works council at DB Regio, a regional subsidiary of Germany's national railway operator Deutsche Bahn. "There are not enough staff and especially too few vehicles to absorb the increase in passenger numbers in the future," he told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND), which is the joint corporate newsroom of Germany's Madsack Media Group.

Did Germanys 9-euro train and bus ticket pay off?

Debate over follow-up ticket

Critics of the discounted ticket say the money would be better spent on developing said infrastructure.

"We need every additional euro to expand and improve the service so that local public transport can become a mobility alternative suitable for everyday use," said Reinhard Sager, president of the Association of German Counties, dpa news agency reported.

Despite the uncomfortable travel conditions, as the project winds down, many are advocating for the low rate to be extended, particularly in light of the country's recent failure to meet its carbon reduction targets.

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"The solution is obviously not to make public transport less attractive again," one user wrote in a discussion on the social platform Reddit. "But to fix/build the required infrastructure."

Source: DW

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