S-Bahn, trains and buses: Germany to inject an extra €1.2 billion into public transport

As part of the climate package, government subsidies for public rail and bus transport are to be increased over the next four years. Will it encourage more people to ditch their car?

S-Bahn, trains and buses: Germany to inject an extra €1.2 billion into public transport
Commuters board an S-Bahn at Cologne main station. Photo: DPA

Germany wants to increase subsidies for public transport more than planned in a bid to lure people away from their private cars in the fight against climate change.

The Finance Ministry told Spiegel it is planning to increase so-called regionalization funds. This money mainly finances the operation of regional and S-bahn networks, but in some cases, also the operation of public buses. Small portions of these funds are also used to buy new trains or build new railway lines.

The funds are to be increased by €150 million in 2020, and by €300 million in both 2021 and 2022. An additional €450 million is to be ploughed into public transport in 2023.

The cash injections will compliment other planned increases, the Ministry said.

READ ALSO: Revealed – Germany's most expensive (and cheapest) cities for public transport

The current regionalization laws already provide for the annual financial volume of around €8.6 billion to go up by 1.8 percent on the previous year's figure up until 2031. Compared to the existing budget, the newly planned increase is therefore relatively small.

However, it's still been welcomed by groups. The Pro-Rail Alliance lobby organization, which advocates for a higher market share for rail transport in freight and passenger transport, welcomed the plans .

“The federal government wants to double the number of passengers in local and long-distance transport by 2030,” said Dirk Flege, managing director of the transport alliance. “The additional funds are a step in this direction.”

Climate package becomes more concrete

The promotion of local transport is one aspect of the government's climate plan. In the package, the state announced its intention to make alternatives to flying and driving cars.

READ ALSO: Why you will soon pay more for short-haul flights in Germany

The Federal Government's Climate Protection Act is gathering speed. According to insiders it will be introduced into the Bundestag next week, with the aim to pass the law before the SPD party conference in December.


Climate package – das Klimapaket

Federal Finance Ministry – das Bundesfinanzministerium

Rail and bus transport – (die) Schienen und (der) Busverkehr

Welcomed the plans – begrüßte die Pläne

A step in this direction – ein Schritt in diese Richtung

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UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote ‘of a century’

Tens of thousands of climate activists including Greta Thunberg descended on German cities Friday ahead of the weekend general election to crank up the pressure on the candidates to succeed Angela Merkel.

UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote 'of a century'
Greta Thunberg and other climate activists in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Speaking at a rally in front of the Reichstag parliament building in the run-up to Sunday’s poll, Thunberg told cheering Fridays for Future youth supporters that they needed to hold Germany’s political leaders to account past election day.

“It is clearer than ever that no political party is doing close to enough… not even their proposed commitments are close to being in line with what would be needed to fulfil the Paris Agreement,” on curbing climate change, she said.

“Yes, we must vote, you must vote, but remember that voting only will not be enough. We must keep going into the streets.”

As Germany’s top parties hold final rallies ahead of Sunday’s vote, the Fridays for Future youth marches claim the political class has let down the younger generation.

“The political parties haven’t taken the climate catastrophe seriously enough,” Luisa Neubauer, who runs the group’s German chapter, said.

She said Germany, as one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, had an outsize responsibility to set an example, with time running out to reverse destructive trends.

“That is why we are calling this the election of a century,” she said.

The race has boiled down to a two-way contest between Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the moderate finance minister, and Armin Laschet from Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

Polls give Scholz a small lead of about 26 percent over Laschet at around 22 percent, with the candidate from the ecologist Greens, Annalena Baerbock, trailing in the mid-teens.

Despite the urgency of the climate issue for a majority of Germans, particularly in the aftermath of deadly floods in the west of the country in July, this has failed to translate into strong support for the relatively inexperienced Baerbock.

She told Die Welt newspaper that she hoped Friday’s rally would give her party “tailwinds” heading into the vote. “The next government has to be a climate government – that will only work with a strong Green party.”   

More than 400 “climate strikes” are planned across Germany, with the Swedish Thunberg, who inspired the movement, expected to speak outside the Reichstag parliament building.

Thousands gathered on the lawn there from late morning bearing signs reading “Climate now, homework later”, “It’s our future” and simply “Vote”.

“Climate is an important issue and if this continues things are going to get worse and worse,” 14-year-old pupil Louise Herr told AFP.

Gathering under the banners “We are young and need the world!” and “Everything for the climate”, the activists are arguing that “climate crisis is this century’s biggest problem”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

 ‘Unfair burden’

The activists will be part of a global climate strike in more than 1,000 communities around the world, Fridays for Future said.

Their central demand is to limit the warming of the Earth to maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The Paris agreement set a goal of reducing global warming by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with an aspiration to go further and cap the rise to 1.5 Celsius.

Despite Merkel’s vocal support of climate protection measures, Germany has repeatedly failed in recent years to meet its emission reduction targets under the pact.

In a landmark ruling in April, Germany’s constitutional court found the government’s plans to curb CO2 emissions “insufficient” to meet the targets of the Paris agreement and placed an “unfair burden” on future generations.

The Fridays for Future movement launched global school strikes more than two years ago arguing that time was running out to stop irreversible damage from the warming of the planet.

Demonstrators take to the streets in Berlin to call for urgent climate action. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Luca Bruno

In September 2019, it drew huge crowds in cities and towns around the world including 1.4 million protesters in Germany, according to organisers.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on its weekly rallies but the election campaign in Europe’s top economy has revitalised the

“The climate crisis cannot be solved through party politics alone,” Thunberg told reporters ahead of her appearance in Berlin.

“We can’t just vote for change, we also have to be active democratic citizens and go out on the streets and demand action.”


Greens as junior partner?

Around 60.4 million Germans are called to the polls on Sunday and most voters cite climate protection among their top priorities.

All three leading parties have said they aim to implement a climate protection agenda if elected, with the Greens presenting the most ambitious package of measures.

However the Fridays for Future activists have said even the Greens’ official programme falls short of what is needed to stick to the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise.

The Greens want to end coal energy use by 2030 instead of the current 2038. They also want the production of combustion engine cars to end from the same year.

While the party is expected to fall far short of its ambition to win the election Sunday and place Baerbock in the chancellery, polls indicate it has a good chance of joining a ruling coalition as a junior partner under Scholz or Laschet.

By Deborah Cole