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TRAIN TRAVEL

E-cars and sleeper trains: How Germany’s new government will reform transport

Germany's new traffic light coalition has a fitting name - they have lofty ambitions for the transport sector. Now under the control of the Free Democrats, the transport ministry will focus on e-mobility, modernising the railways and bringing local public transport up to scratch.

A sign for an e-car charging station
A sign for a charging station in Wolfsburg. dpa | Swen Pförtner

Cars

Germany’s pride and joy is its automobile industry, which employs close to a million people. The next government has pledged to support this industry in transitioning to e-mobility while securing its place as a global export powerhouse.

The coalition agreement isn’t afraid to go into detail on what it expects to achieve. The Ampel parties want to see 15 million electric cars on the streets by the end of the decade. They’ve committed to an end to new combustion engines by 2035.

They also pledge “massive” support for charging infrastructure. Specifically the documents sets out an “expansion of the charging point infrastructure with the goal of one million publicly accessible charging points by 2030, with a focus on fast-charging infrastructure.”

In terms of old fashioned asphalt, the coalition says it will “focus on the maintenance and rehabilitation of federal roads, with a particular emphasis on engineering structures.”

Maintenance of autobahns and bridges will receive a bigger share of the federal budget in the coming years, they say.

There will also be no general speed limit imposed on German motorways.

Some good news for teenagers: they also want to lower the legal driving age to 16, with driving at that age possible under supervision. The intention is to “train young people in the dangers of road traffic at an early stage.”

Public transport

The coalition wants to “invest significantly more in rail than in road transport” and will establish sleeper train services that will connect German to destinations in other EU countries. Between the largest cities, trains are to run every half hour in future, and transfer times are to be significantly shortened.

They also commit to having 75 percent of the rail network run on electricity by the end of the decade. 

There is a vague commitment to “supporting innovative rail technologies” while more money will also be given to local governments to “improve the attractiveness and capacity of local public transport with the aim of significantly increasing passenger numbers.” 

To bring local transport up to standard, new quality criteria will be drawn up for connections in urban and rural areas, while the federal government will dole out more money to plug gaps in regional transport budgets. 

Regional train in Schleswig-Holstein
A regional train travels through Friedrichstadt in Schleswig-Holstein. The traffic light coalition wants to lift standards on regional transport with major investment and national quality criteria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

The next pledge comes under the category of ‘boring but important’: all rail services from track repair, to station maintenance to trains will be rolled up into one company. The various state-owned companies that make up Deutsche Bahn have been leaking money at an alarming rate in recent years, making an overhaul all but inevitable.

There is a general commitment to app-based booking and car sharing. They also want to support digital booking across transport companies, while also “funding digital mobility services, innovative mobility solutions and car sharing.”

Aviation

The focus here is on decarbonizing the aviation sector. There is a pledge to “ramp-up” support for of synthetic fuels that enable climate-neutral flying. They also promise to lobby the European Union to ensure that airline tickets cannot be sold at a rock-bottom prices.

Bikes

The Green party’s manifesto pledge to subsidize cargo bikes has not made it into the agreement.

Instead there is a commitment to “implementing and updating the National Cycling Plan” and to work on “modernization of the bike path network, and promote municipal cycling infrastructure.”

The minister

Volker Wissing arrives at negotiations in Belrin on November 11th. Photo: DPA/ Kay Nietfeld

The ministry is going to be led by Free Democrat general Secretary Volker Wissing, who ran the transport ministry in Rhineland-Palatinate until 2018.

Wissing is fairly new on the national scene and something of an unknown quantity. A man of growing influence in his party, he led the early ‘traffic light’ negotiations for his party.

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The Free Democrats were staunch opponents of a speed limit on the autobahns. They traditionally have the reputation of being a party of men who drive fast cars.

Due to their advocacy of economic liberalism, the FDP are likely to be hesitant about imposing too many government targets on the car industry.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!

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