How the commute to work in Germany is changing

Added stress and high costs: commuting is an unfortunate part of everyday life for an ever-growing amount of people in Germany.

How the commute to work in Germany is changing
Cars sit in traffic on their way into the city of Freiburg. Photo: DPA

As well as the increasing number of workers shuttling between the Bundesländer (federal states), districts and other municipal boundaries, the average length of the trip has also risen.

Social security contributions revealed that last year there were 3.40 million employees who worked outside of the state they live. The year before, there were 50,000 fewer – and there were only 2.14 million in 1999.

These statistics were pulled from data on commuters by the Federal Employment Agency (BA), which the Left (Die Linke) politician Sabine Zimmermann analyzed.

SEE ALSO: Record 745,000 traffic jams on Germany's Autobahn

More than 19 million workers in Germany commute

In 2018, almost 60 percent of all employees left their communities to get to work, while in 2000 it was only 54 percent, according to a separate evaluation by the Federal Institute for Building, Urban and Spatial Research (Bundesinstitut für Bau-, Stadt- und Raumforschung).

That data shows that 19.3 million employees commute regularly now. In 2000 the number was 14.94 million. The strong increase is mainly due to the increase in employment in recent years.

But it could also partly be down to pressure on workers to stay in employment in the precarious job market.

More employees also leave their city or district on the way to work; 12.6 million in 2018, while in 2000 it was only 9.3 million.

The Federal Institute has also found that the average length of commuting increased from 14.8 kilometres in 2000 to 16.9 kilometres in 2018.

“The pressure to be mobile at work and to travel long distances for work has continued unabated in recent years,” Left politician Zimmermann told DPA.

Drivers near Stuttgart. Photo: DPA

The price is an increasing amount of stress, especially for long-distance commuters, impacting all aspects of life, including health and safety, she added.

East to west

Routes to the labour market centres are particularly long in the sparsely populated areas away from the metropolitan areas, researchers explain.

In large parts of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, employees travel an average of more than 30 kilometres on their way to work.

There are still significantly more employees from eastern Germany who go to work in the western federal states than in the opposite direction.

According to BA figures, around 415,000 eastern German employees commuted to the west in 2019. Conversely, 178,000 people came to work in the east from western Germany.

Hundreds of thousands of people commute to the major cities. According to the Federal Institute, Munich is the top destination: here around 390,000 employees from another district came to work in the city.

Munich is followed by Frankfurt am Main (374,000), Hamburg (350,000) and Berlin (315,000). 

Conversely, employees are increasingly commuting from large cities to jobs in the surrounding area or to other large cities, the Federal Institute also found.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting a German driving license

More frequent, but shorter traffic jams

Traffic jams are a major problem for commuters. According to the ADAC automobile club, the total duration of traffic jams reported on German motorways increased significantly last year.

At the same time, however, the number and the distance covered by reported traffic jams decreased.

In total, traffic stalled nationwide for 521,000 hours in 2019, an increase of just under 14 percent.

With around 708,500 reported traffic jams, there were 5 percent less than in the previous year, and their overall length also decreased by around 1.42 million kilometers, or seven percent.

Employers should consider work schedules that give employees the proper flexibility to counteract commuting stress, Zimmermann said.

The fact that more people commute from east to west is also an expression of the low wages in the eastern federal states, she said. Working on fixing the imbalance would relieve the burden on the eastern German labour market considerably.

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COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.