Should Berlin introduce first class travel on its U-Bahn system?

The German capital should introduce an exclusive section on its inner-city trains to drive up revenues and encourage the rich to use public transport, a study by the World Economic Forum has concluded. But critics say the proposals reveal a poor understanding of Berlin and its leftwing politics.

Passengers at Berlin Alexanderplatz in November 2021
Passengers at Berlin Alexanderplatz in November 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Introducing business class seating on the city’s public transport networks could help solve financing problems for Berlin’s public transport, meaning that more money could be spent improving services in deprived districts, the report carried out by the Boston Consulting Group found.

According to the proposal, the city could charge 3.5 times the current price of a standard ticket for seating in a business class section. The seating would have Wifi and more comfortable seats and would cover around 10 percent of overall seating.

At the same time, the price of a standard ticket would be cut by a fifth.

The report predicted that such a measure would increase revenues by 28 percent, due to the fact that it would entice more high earners onto trains and buses.

The study also predicted such a measure would be good for the environment as it would lead to 4 percent fewer cars on the street.

“Although considering that such a premium public transit class offer would require significant investments to justify the higher price, the additional source of money could subsidize transportation-based social inclusivity initiatives in less well-off areas of the city and improve accessibility over the longer term,” the report argued.


‘Crazy idea’

But the proposal has been met with ridicule in the German capital, where transport experts have lambasted what they see as a lack of understanding of Berlin’s particular social climate.

“Regular users of Berlin’s public transport will have fun imagining the great and the good paying €10 to travel in graffiti-sprayed trains through derelict stations while homeless people beg for some spare change,” commented Nicolas Šustr, transport editor at the Neues Deutschland newspaper.

Jens Wieseke of the IGEB passenger association told Tagesspiegel newspaper that it was “an absurd pseudo-discussion and an impractical proposal.” He added that public transport “should be egalitarian and not elite.”

The Berliner Zeitung newspaper described the proposal as “crazy”, pointing out that it would lead to packed carriages in the second class section and would likely fail due to Berlin’s deep-rooted belief in egalitarianism.

“If the city wants to attract more customers onto the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, it should make parking at stations free of charge while introducing higher parking fees everywhere in the city center,” the newspaper proposed.

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Living in Germany: Exploring locally, Bargeld and the NRW state election

In our weekend roundup for Germany we look at exploring the country this summer, the country's obsession with cash and some facts about North Rhine-Westphalia, which goes to the polls on Sunday.

Living in Germany: Exploring locally, Bargeld and the NRW state election

A chance to explore Germany 

Although we’re still in the pandemic, it feels like life in Germany is beginning to feel a bit more like it did before Covid hit us. With many restrictions easing, people have been really enjoying spring and looking forward to summer.  So it’s no surprise that many of you have been reading our stories about travel. Our articles on the €9 monthly ticket as well as train travel in Germany and beyond have been particularly popular. The public transport offer will also give many people the chance to explore closer to home. I know I am really looking forward to seeing more of Germany, whether it’s around the Brandenburg area near where I live, or going further afield (Heidelberg, I’m looking at you). I’d love to know if you want to use the €9 ticket or if you have any plans to explore Germany this summer. Please fill in this survey on the €9 ticket (it’s open until Monday) and get in touch with your opinions or other travel plans by emailing [email protected]. Thanks so much to those of you who’ve already been in touch.

Tweet of the week

The German love of cash or Bargeld in 2022 while the rest of the world goes contactless is indeed one of life’s greatest mysteries, as this tweet highlights. We’ll definitely be using our ‘ask a German’ series to try and find out more about this habit… 

Where is this? 

Pankstrasse U-Bahn

Berliners or those who’ve visited the capital may recognise this U-Bahn station which is situated in the north. The station is actually part of the Pankstrasse nuclear fallout shelter. Built in 1977 during the Cold War, this “multi-purpose” facility was intended to protect the citizens of West Berlin in case of a nuclear conflict. The bunker serves not only as an U-Bahn stop for commuters but also, in an emergency, could have sheltered 3,339 people for up to two weeks. For those interested, we’d recommend checking out a tour like those run by Berliner Untervelten E.V. Due to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to massive tension between Europe and Russia, the tours have become even more topical.

Did you know?

Since people in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) or Nordrhein Westfalen are going to the polls this Sunday, we thought we’d look at some facts about this western state. This is Germany’s most populated state with about 17.9 million people. It’s also home to the most foreigners – around 2.5 million non-Germans live in NRW. With cities such as Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and Essen, the state is a culturally rich and diverse part of Germany. Many people don’t know that Bonn was the capital of the former West Germany all the way up to reunification, before Berlin took the title. Many federal buildings and institutions still have their base there. 

The state is led by Christian Democrat Hendrik Wüst who took over last year after Armin Laschet resigned as state premier following his unsuccessful federal election bid. The CDU is currently in a coalition with the Free Democrats. But it looks like change is on the horizon. The CDU and the Social Democrats are both polling at around 30 percent, with the CDU having a slight lead of two to four percentage points. Meanwhile, the FDP appears to have lost support. It’s going to be a tight race – and the Greens party – polling at around 17 percent – will likely be the kingmakers. Important topics for voters include the future of German industry, and how to secure jobs in the move to renewable energy. Many people see this election as a test for the federal government which is led by the SPD’s Olaf Scholz. 

Thanks for reading,

Rachel and Imogen @ The Local Germany 

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