German train travel almost back to ‘pre-pandemic levels’

After the lockdowns and Covid anxieties of the past year and a half, Germany's main rail operator says passenger volume on regional trains is finally bouncing back.

Regional train at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof
A regional train pulls into Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. DB's director of regional trains is considering increasing weekend services once again after limiting them throughout the pandemic. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Bockwoldt

“We are already almost back to pre-Covid levels at weekends,” Jörg Sandvoß, director of Deutsche Bahn’s regional trains, told DPA on Friday.

On local services, he said, the company is seeing significant more day-trippers and short leisure trips out to the countryside.

“People noticed during the lockdowns that it’s beautiful in the Odenwald, the Mecklenburg Lake District and the Bavarian Forest,” Sandvoß said.

“What we’re still missing at the moment are passengers to the football matches, Christmas markets, Oktoberfest – after all, these are always big days for us whenever they roll around.”

Deutsche Bahn has grappled with billion-euro losses over the past two years due to the combined impact of the flooding in western Germany and multiple pandemic-related shutdown.

But there are signs that people are regaining their confidence in the safety of public transport and are using the trains more regularly, both for leisure and commutes.

Though services remain quieter in rural areas, cities are generally seeing more than 80 percent of pre-pandemic passenger levels on trains. 

“We are now at a level of 70, sometimes 80 percent of pre-Covid passenger volume,” Jörg Sandvoß, “We have invested a lot in additional hygiene and safety.”

Together with the transport associations, DB’s regional services are now considering whether to increase weekend rail services in some areas.

“On the Stuttgart S-Bahn, for example, we will increase the service to a 15-minute frequency on Saturdays as early as mid-December,” he said.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Germany

A ‘turnaround’ in public transport

His comments come just days after it was revealed that around 55 million people in Germany have insufficient access to public transport.

According to a study by Deutsche Bahn subsidiary and mobility startup ioki, less than half of public transport access points in rural areas is served hourly or more frequently. 

One challenge to transform Germany’s public transport network is to offer increased services in these rural areas, the regional trains director explained. 

Visitors climb over large rocks in the Odenwald
Visitors climb over large rocks in the Odenwald near Lautertal in Hesse. Linking patchy transport connections in areas like this is one of the biggest challenges facing Deutsche Bahn. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

“That’s why we need to take a big step to go the last mile. The connection to public transport on the doorstep has to be facilitated and improved,” said Sandvoß. “That’s easy in the big city, but in the Odenwald it starts to get more difficult.

“That’s why the question is, how do I get the regional express trains or suburban trains to the people and vice versa?”

One solution, he said, is seen in integrated mobility to create flexible feeders to existing bus and train lines.

“We decided at DB a few years ago to invest in this new form of mobility, for example in our bus sector,” Sandvoß said. “Now that the older generation of 70 plus is also good with mobile phones, we have a real opportunity to offer integrated mobility with the solutions of small vehicles plus app control.”

READ ALSO: German public transport slammed as ‘failure’ as half of users switch to car

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EXPLAINED: How will Berlin’s new €29 transport ticket work?

Germany’s capital launched its follow-up to the €9 ticket on Tuesday, but the ticket will only be valid for those with subscriptions. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How will Berlin’s new €29 transport ticket work?

Tickets for the new €29 Berlin city ticket went on sale on Tuesday and eager passengers will be wondering how they can get their hands on the discount offer. However, unlike the nationwide €9 ticket, Berlin’s travel deal will only be valid in the AB fare zone of Berlin and for customers with a yearly subscription.

Why has Berlin brought in the ticket?

The Berlin state government and transport companies in Berlin developed the ticket to set an example for climate protection and make public transportation more attractive for Berliners. The state of Berlin is financing the offer which will bridge the gap between the end of the €9 ticket offer and a nationwide successor which should arrive in January.

READ ALSO: Berlin gets green light to launch €29 transport ticket

Where and when will the ticket be valid?

The €29 ticket will be valid on all buses, trams, U-bahns and S-bahns within the AB fare zone in the city of Berlin. Those wanting to travel into the C zone will need to buy an extension ticket.

Who is the ticket for?

Some people might be disappointed to find out that the ticket will only be available as part of a yearly subscription. All other tickets will retain their usual prices.

That means that people won’t be able to buy a monthly ticket for €29 unless it’s part of a yearly package, so certain groups of people, such as tourists, may not benefit from the offer.

From October 1st to December 31st, 2022, the monthly price for the following subscriptions in the Berlin AB fare zone will be reduced to €29:

–   VBB-Umweltkarten subscriptions with monthly and annual payments

–   10 o’clock ticket subscriptions with monthly and annual payments

–   VBB company tickets with monthly and yearly payments

–   Education monthly subscription ticket with monthly payments

The offer will not apply to ABC semester tickets. 

How will payment for the ticket work?

According to information from BVG, subscribers who pay monthly will automatically be charged the lower amount, while compensation for those who pay annually is expected to arrive at the end of the promotional period.

Can I get a yearly subscription starting from October and still benefit?

Yes. If you sign up for a yearly subscription on the BVG or VBB website, starting from October, you will be charged the lower price for the first three months of the subscription. If you start in November or December, you will pay the lower price for just those months. 

What happens once the promotion is over?

For those who don’t cancel their subscription by December 31st, their subscription contract will run for a total of 12 months. However, passengers can also switch to another VBB fare product, to another fare zone or to the successor product to the €9 ticket, which is expected to be valid throughout Germany from January 1st.

READ ALSO: Germany to set out plans for €49 transport ticket in October

When can the subscription be cancelled?

It seems that people will be able to cancel their yearly subscriptions. The BVG website says: “If we were not able to convince you of our performance and you decide not to continue the subscription beyond the promotional period, you can cancel your subscription at any time at the end of the month without any disadvantages.”


Subscription – (das) Abonnement

Extension ticket – (der) Anschlussfahrausweis

Yearly – jährlich

Monthly – monatlich

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