Berliners and Stuttgarters who ride public transit without a ticket or without a properly stamped one will be among the first to face heightened fines starting on Wednesday as an initiative to crack down on violators rolls out nationwide.
Hamburg, Munich and the Rhine-Ruhr area (which includes Düsseldorf and Cologne) will make the change in August. Deutsche Bahn also said it will increase the fine starting August 1st for regional, long-distance and S-Bahn trains.
“Fare-dodging on buses and trains should not be worth it,” said Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt.
Transit companies lose €250 million each year due to fare-dodging, according to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV). The association also estimates that 3.5 percent of bus- and train-riders travel without a ticket.
While the association has advocated for further regulations to impose steeper fines on repeat offenders, others have argued that increasing fees may target the wrong people and that often the rules are not forgiving of those who truly did not understand what was the right ticket to buy.
“You must try to distinguish in some way between people who intentionally and regularly dodge fares, and those who made a mistake at the ticket machine,” said honourary chairman of passenger association Pro Bahn Karl-Peter Naumann.
“It is increasingly the case that inspectors do not understand what fairness is.”
Pro Bahn and the Federation of German Consumer Organizations have said that a sliding scale of fines would be more effective.
In extreme cases in certain states, some fare-dodgers may land in jail, but consumer protection agencies say this is the wrong way to address the problem.
Though a spokesman from VDV acknowledged that there can be a gray area in determining fare-dodgers' intentions, but that it can be hard to judge for ticket inspectors who have heard every excuse.
“Some 97 to 98 percent of our customers are honest, and you have to see it from their point of view,” said transport company association spokesman Lars Wagner. “The honest ones will at some point have to pay what others do not pay, through the ticket price.”