Travellers on Germany's public transport networks are familiar with the sight: as if from nowhere, plain-clothed ticket inspectors appear down the length of a carriage and start demanding tickets.
Where other European countries make it impossible to board a train without buying a ticket – at least not without performing some impressive acrobatics over the barriers – Germany by and large relies on an honour system and travellers' sense of civic duty.
But the random inspections serve to keep a lid on widespread fare dodging.
That cry of “Fahrkarten, bitte!” could be more expensive for Schwarzfahrer (fare dodgers) from January 1st if the government agrees to plans for higher fines from the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament.
“We've advised state governments that the €40 amount doesn't have a proper connection to ticket prices anymore, which have risen since the regulations were written 12 years ago,” Lars Wagner, a spokesman for the Federation of German Transport Companies (VDV), told The Local.
State representatives in the upper chamber are asking the federal government to change two regulations, allowing fines to rise to €60 and hopefully increasing their deterrent effect.
That would bring German fines to a similar level to the UK, but still much lower than many other countries in Western Europe including Belgium (up to €200), France (up to €180) and Switzerland (up to €160).
“This decision is a good signal for businesses and for all honest passengers,” VDV president Jürgen Fenske said.
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt must now decide on whether to allow the change.
His spokesman said that the government “wouldn't stand in the way if the Bundesrat made such a suggestion” when asked about the plans in October.
The VDV estimates that between 3 and 3.5 percent of passengers don't bother buying a ticket every year, making up to 350 million unpaid journeys.
That costs transport companies €250 million in lost revenue each year, plus a further €100 million on ticket inspectors and other measures to fight the problem.