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Berlin Attorney-General wants to scrap criminal penalties for fare evasion

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Berlin Attorney-General wants to scrap criminal penalties for fare evasion
Photo: DPA
10:11 CET+01:00
Berlin's Attorney-General Margarete Koppers plans to decriminalise fare evasion in the city. The investigation and punishment of fare evasion in Germany's largest city is a “waste of resources”.

Under the current laws, fare evasion is a crime with potentially significant consequences, including large follow-up fines and jail time. While others have called for the offence to be downgraded to a misdemeanour, Koppers is the first to suggest that criminal consequences should be removed completely. 

“The offence should be abolished - and completely abolished” Koppers told the Berliner Morgenpost

Providing it with a lower classification, i.e. as a misdemeanour or administrative offence, would not be a relief for the judiciary. 

“In such cases, district courts would still have to deal with the trial proceedings” Koppers said. 

“The police would still need to perform regulatory measures, meaning there wouldn't be a cut in their workload”. 

The proposal has drawn criticism, however, particularly from conservative politicians. CDU deputy Sven Rissman said it would incentivise Schwarzfahren (fare evasion). 

"Legalising fare dodging would mean a serious perversion of our legal system. Why would anyone still be buying tickets?"

The Local reported in 2018 that almost one in five Berliners have admitted to fare dodging ‘from time to time',  equal with Stuttgart as the highest in the country. Rates in Hamburg (11 per cent) and Frankfurt (14 per cent) are lower. 

The penalty for fare evasion on Berlin's U and S-Bahn networks is €60, increasing from €40 in 2015. Fines are payable on the spot or at a later date through bank transfer, however they are likely to increase if payment is delayed. 

As a last resort, serial fare dodgers are often sent to jail when they are unable or unwilling to pay their debts. 

While there were reports yesterday that Koppers wanted to remove penalties for fare evasion entirely - including fines - indications are that she would be satisfied with decriminalisation and would intend to keep the on-the-spot fines as a deterrent. 

The BVG (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe) - Berlin's public transport company - loses around €20 million per year directly due to fare evasion. 

This however does not take into account the costs incurred by the police and the courts in tracking down and punishing fare evaders. 

As reported by The Local in August, fare dodgers make up as high as a third of the population of Berlin's Plötzensee Prison. Berlin police filed 12,000 complaints over fare evasion in 2017, with more than 300 people imprisoned annually for failing to pay. 

 

 

 
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