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EXPLAINED: The extreme differences in public transport costs across Germany

Passengers wear face masks on an S-Bahn
Passengers wear face masks on an S-Bahn platform at the main station. Photo: dpa | Christian Charisius
A new study has laid bare the stark differences in public transport ticket prices from city to city in Germany.

If you want to buy a single fare on Munich public transport you have to pay a euro more than what you would pay in Hamburg. And a simple trip will cost you €3.40 in Munich and just €2.40 in the Hanseatic port.

That makes Munich the most expensive city in the country for a single fare, while Hamburg is the cheapest.

But, when it comes to a monthly pass, the two cities switch roles.

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Here, Munich is cheapest with regular travellers paying just €57 for their monthly ticket. In Hamburg on the other hand a monthly ticket costs €112.80 – almost double the cost.

The seemingly random level of pricing can be seen across Germany, as a recent survey by the Germany Automobile Club (ADAC) shows.

Berlin, for instance, has a cheap monthly card but very expensive single fares.

Frankfurt has ticket prices in the mid-range across the board. Cologne is on the expensive side in each category.

The arbitrary rules on pricing can also be seen in the costs of bike tickets and child passes. Some cities make taking a bicycle with you free, others have a bike single fare, while others still make you buy a day pass.

The reasons for the wide pricing differences lie in the fact that local transport providers are owned by state governments, who each have different priorities in establishing prices. They are also influenced by different subsidies that are handed to public transport at the federal, state and district levels of government.

“Every city is doing its own thing,” the ADAC report concluded. “German cities are still miles away from uniform ticket prices.”

“For the consumer and the attractiveness of public transport as a whole, a standardisation of prices at the lowest possible level would be desirable.”

The Statista graph below gives an idea of the public transport costs in the German cities of Hamburg, Bonn, Cologne, Frankfurt and Berlin, breaking it down to show a single trip ticket (Einzelfahrt), day ticket (Tagesticket), weekly ticket (Wochenticket) and monthly ticket (Monatsticket).

Infografik: So viel kosten ÖPNV-Tickets in Deutschland | Statista

Source: Statista

Hefty criticism

Germany’s public transport providers have come in for stiff criticism recently due to the drop in passengers numbers during the pandemic.

A report released by the Social Science Research Centre this summer concluded that “the lack of flexibility and low quality of the product” provided by public transport providers was putting people off traveling with the U-Bahn or bus even after lockdown measures had been lifted.

“As the backbone of the transport revolution, public transport is currently a total failure,” WZB’s transport researcher Andreas Knie told German daily Spiegel.

In a rare example of cooperation between city transport providers, in September holders of annual tickets in their local area were able to travel for free on public transport in many regions across the country.

The action lasted for two weeks and was promoted as a way of thanking people who had kept using the public services despite the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Where public transport costs are going up in Germany


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