Commuting: How many people in Germany travel to another federal state for work?

Commuting: How many people in Germany travel to another federal state for work?
Drivers on the Autobahn 7 in north Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bodo Marks
The number of people who travel long distances to get to work in Germany has been rising in recent years. How could petrol and public transport costs change - and will the pandemic affect working habits?

Nearly 3.4 million people in Germany travelled to work in a different federal state than their place of residence last year. 

That’s according to current commuter figures from the Federal Employment Agency (BA), which were requested by the Left Party, and made available to DPA.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in commuter numbers in Germany. In 1999, only 2.1 million people didn’t have their place of work in the state in which they lived.

The BA figures do not show, however, how many people temporarily did not have to commute because of coronavirus-related restrictions that have led to many people working from home.

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In the statistics, a comparison is made between the place of residence and the place of work, a BA spokeswoman explained. “Whether the place of work is actually visited cannot be mapped out,” she said.

But the Federal Statistical Office previously conducted a survey on the influence of the pandemic on commuting behaviour, which gives us some insight. According to it, there was a decline in commuting from March 2020. In April, the decline became more pronounced, and in May 2020, more people were commuting again.

There is currently a lot of discussion about whether people will also be able to do more home working after the pandemic and therefore also have to commute less.

READ ALSO: Home Office makes employees more effective and happy, Germany study finds

Why is commuting being discussed in Germany right now?

This issue has come to the forefront because of the federal election coming up this September. Parties have been debating how to reduce carbon emissions, while also balancing out people’s car usage and Germany’s love of the automobile. There’s also been talk about the cost of public transport.

Green Party co-leader Annalena Baerbock has – according to her party’s draft programme – advocated to raise the tax on petrol by 16 cents a litre if the Greens were to win power, in an effort to push the country more towards carbon neutrality.

It would increase gas prices by around 10 percent.

Against the backdrop of the current debate on gas prices, the Left Party’s Sabine Zimmermann called for consideration to be given to commuters. It would be “cynical if the price of getting to work were to be pushed ever higher,” she told DPA.

Zimmermann added: “Employees are being asked to be mobile and, in some cases, to travel long distances to work. No federal government, not even the Greens, have wanted to change anything about that so far.”

As far as transportation is concerned, Zimmermann did call for an end to the internal combustion engine. However, she said, the government must keep the commute to work affordable. This includes the expansion of railroads with low-cost tickets and affordable electro-mobility options. 

Where are Germany’s commuters?

Compared to 2019, the number of people living and working in different federal states last year fell slightly, according to the BA statistics. There were 3.381 million federal state commuters subject to social security contributions in 2020. In 2019, there were 3.396 million.

According to the statistics, the most commuters between federal states in 2020 were 225,000 going from Brandenburg to Berlin, and the fewest were 41 from Bremen to Saarland.

The example of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, shows the extent of commuting beyond urban areas: 93,000 employees lived in North Rhine-Westphalia but worked in neighbouring Lower Saxony, 64,000 in neighboring Hesse. Meanwhile, 47,000 NRW residents worked in Bavaria and 38,000 in Baden-Württemberg.

In 2020, around 408,000 eastern German employees commuted to the west, according to the Federal Agency’s figures (2019: 415,000). Conversely, around 178,000 employees came from western Germany to work in the east, remaining unchanged from the previous year.

It is yet to be seen how the pandemic will impact long-term habits of commuting in Germany. 

MUST READ: Will working from home become norm post-corona crisis?

Vocabulary

Commuter/commuters – (der or die) Pendler

Place of work – (der) Arbeitsort

Comparison (der) Abgleich 

Against the background of – vor dem Hintergrund von

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.


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