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LIVING IN GERMANY

How cable cars could boost public transport links in Germany

Berlin is the first German city set to completely integrate a cable car into its public transport system - but soaring transport links could soon arrive in many other major cities.

IGA Cable Car Berlin
Berlin Marzahn's cable car sails over the Gardens of the World. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

In South American cities like Mexico City, Le Paz and Bogota, it’s become an everyday sight: commuters and tourists travelling from A to B above the rooftops. But until now, cable cars in Germany have been primarily reserved for the ski slopes. 

That could all change under plans released by the new government.

According to information obtained by DPA, the traffic light coalition wants to make it easier for cities in Germany to build cable cars to complement their bus and train network – and it is already drawing up guidelines that should be released in 2022.

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

“Our public transport in big cities is well organised, but is reaching its limits,” project manager Sebastian Beck from the consultancy Drees & Sommer told DPA. “The cable car is about closing gaps, relieving, extending, bridging.”

So, could people in German cities soon be soaring over houses and traffic jams to go shopping or to school just like they do in Mexico? If new plans in Berlin and other major metropoles come to fruition, this could certainly be the case.

As it stands, the capital looks set to be the first city in Germany to completely integrate a cable car into its public transport system. Under plans released by the SPD, Greens and Left Party coalition, the existing cable car in Marzahn’s Garden of the World will be linked up with the U5 station Kienberg by the end of 2022. 

What used to be mainly a visitor attraction for garden shows in Germany is now becoming the focus of transport planners – and Berlin isn’t alone. According to DPA, a number of cities are now considering transferring part of their traffic to the air on cable cars.

Bonn, Stuttgart, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Munich and others are said to be considering whether the soaring cabins are the answer to congestion on the ground. And so far, the plans have mostly received a warm response from commentators.

Scaling an 100-metre ‘mountain’

For people in some of South America’s big cities, riding a cable car is a perfectly normal part of everyday life. La Paz, for example, has a total of 27 kilometres of cable cars, the densest network in the world. Bolivia’s capital has up to 1,000 metres of height difference to overcome, while Berlin’s IGA cable car only has to scale the Kienberg.

Like many of Berlin’s other hills, the Kienberg was erected using war debris and building rubble and, at 100 metres high, is high enough to be called a mountain in the notoriously flat capital. This is where, on the far eastern edge of the city, the cable car runs. 

READ ALSO: Record-breaking cable car for tallest mountain in Germany to open Thursday

Leaving the U5 station at Kienberg, passengers are just a short walk from the cable car, which operates 64 separate gondolas. At the highest point, visitors can see the sun appear behind Marzahn’s famous Plattenbauten (prefabricated high-rise blocks) and gaze down on the Gardens of the World – a hugely popular attraction in Kienberg Park. The cable car has been part of eastern city’s skyline since it was built for a garden exhibition in 2017.

As it stands, however, those who descend the 100-metre ‘mountain’ find themselves on a four-lane road, because the cable car was originally intended as a visitor attraction, and as such, an end in itself. Unless the transport network is extended on the other side of Kienberg Park, it won’t get anyone to their destination any faster. Nevertheless, in deciding that it can be used with the normal public transport ticket, the Berlin government is setting an example. 

IGA cable car
The cable car takes flight above the Plattenbauten of Marzahn. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

So far, the plans haven’t been piloted yet – but arguments in favour of cable cars could soon be backed up by concrete research.

Experts are currently working on a study – due to be published in 2023 – which will determine whether further cable cars can usefully supplement local public transport. Of course, the answer could also be ‘no’. But the discussion about cable cars has been preoccupying the capital for a long time. Who wouldn’t want to simply float over the daily traffic jams, without even having to scour the daily timetables? 

In spring, proposals for five cable car routes were circulated among Berlin senators. Visitors could ride past the skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz, or across the former Tempelhof airfield – or even over the Wannsee. At present, however, these are all just ‘what ifs’. 

More concretely, Munich is already thinking about a cable car several kilometres long in the north of the city, while Bonn is considering utilising the airborne transport to create links across the Rhine. “Back from the car-oriented city to a living space with better air and less noise,” is the motto in the former West German capital. 

Climate-friendly, cheap, reliable 

The federal government also has something to gain from the mode of transport, which is hailed for being eco-friendly, cheap and reliable. Furthermore, cable cars can spring up quickly to close gaps in the public transport system, replace bus services or connect rural areas.

READ ALSO: 55 million people in Germany have ‘inadequate public transport’

“A cable car alone is not the solution to all transport problems,” the Federal Transport Ministry said, dampening enthusiasm. As a continuous conveyor, the cable car can’t bring lots of people from A to B in a short time. “Our question is rather: when can a cableway be a sensible supplement to public transport? Where can it play to its specific strengths?”

The Transport Ministry added that cities would have to carefully weigh up the advantages and disadvantages.

Study author Sebastian Beck from the consulting firm Drees & Sommer says that although the public transport system in big cities is well organised, it is reaching its limits. “The cable car is about closing gaps, relieving, extending, bridging.”

River Rhine Hagenbach
Ships sail along a stretch of the Rhine in Hagenbach, Rhineland-Palatinate. Cities such as Bonn are considering using cable cars as a means of scaling the river. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Einsatz-Report24 | Aaron Klewer

This is also how local transport operators in Germany see it. “You can build cable cars quickly, they need little space and deliver permanent traffic,” said Lars Wagner, spokesman for the Association of German Transport Companies. However, it’s important for it to genuine offer a benefit in terms of public transport, since this is key to unlocking state funding, he said.

According to Wagner, however, there are some obstacles to throwing up a transport network of cable cars: “They get little applause from those who live along the route.”

In Hamburg, for example, a cable car plan failed years ago. In a referendum, residents rejected the railway from St. Pauli across the Elbe and to the other side of the harbour. Opponents said they were concerned about its effect on the cityscape, among other things.

This is where the Ministry of Transport’s guidelines will come in.

“For all infrastructure projects, open and transparent communication with the citizens is necessary at an early stage,” consultant Beck explained.

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TRAVEL NEWS

German states threaten to block €9 ticket in Bundesrat

Germany's cut-price transport ticket is supposed to go on sale next Monday - but a battle over financing is threatening to torpedo the government's plans.

German states threaten to block €9 ticket in Bundesrat

An feud between the federal and state governments intensified on Monday as state leaders threatened to block the government’s most recent energy package when it is put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Friday. 

The battle relates to the government’s plans for a budget transport ticket that would allow people to travel on local and regional transport around Germany for just €9 per month.

Though the 16 states have agreed to support the ticket, transport ministers are arguing that the low-cost option will blow a hole in their budgets and lead to potential price hikes once autumn rolls around.

They claim that current funding promised by the Federal Transport Ministry doesn’t go far enough.

READ ALSO: 

“If the federal government believes it can be applauded on the backs of the states for a three-month consolation prize and that others should foot the bill, then it has made a huge mistake,” Bavaria’s Transport Minister Christian Bernreiter (CSU) told Bild on Monday.

The government has pledged €2.5 billion to the states to pay for the measure, as well as financial support for income lost during the Covid crisis. 

Transport Minister Volker Wissing. of the Free Democrats (FDP), said states would also receive the revenue of the €9 ticket from customers who take advantage of the offer. 

“For this ‘9 for 90 ticket’, the €2.5 billion is a complete assumption of the costs by the federal government,” said Wissing on Thursday. “In addition, the states are also allowed to keep the €9 from the ticket price, so they are very well funded here.”

Transport Minister Volker Wissing

Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) speaks ahead of a G7 summit in Düsseldorf.

However, federal states want a further €1.5 billion in order to increase staff, deal with extra fuel costs and to plan for the expansion of local transport in Germany.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Reinhard Meyer (SPD), told Bild that there would be “no approval (on Friday) as long as the federal government does not provide additional funds.”

Baden-Württemberg’s Transport Minister Winfried Hermann (Greens) also warned that “the entire package of fuel rebate and €9 euro ticket could fail in the Bundesrat” if the government doesn’t agree to the state’s demands on funding.

The Bundesrat is Germany’s upper house of parliament, which is comprised of MPs serving in the state governments. Unlike in the Bundestag, where the traffic-light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) has a majority, the CDU is the largest party in the Bundesrat. 

What is the €9 ticket?

The €9 monthly ticket was announced early this year as part of a package of energy relief measures for struggling households.

With the price of fuel rising dramatically amid supply bottlenecks and the war in Ukraine, the traffic-light coalition is hoping to encourage people to switch to public transport over summer instead. 

The ticket will run for three months from the start of June to the end of August, and will allow people to travel nationwide on local and regional transport. Long-distance trains like IC, EC and ICE trains will not be covered by the ticket. 

It should be available to purchase from May 23rd, primarily via ticket offices and the DB app and website. 

Some regional operators, including Berlin-Brandenburg’s VBB, have also pledged to offer the ticket at ticket machines.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get hold of the €9 travel ticket in Berlin

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