You may be surprised to know that, in Germany, riding public transport without a ticket – so called Schwarzfahren – is a criminal offence which can lead to hefty fines and, in extreme cases, up to one year in prison.
But according to a report from Der Spiegel, the new German coalition government is now considering decriminalising riding on public transport without a ticket.
According to the report, government officials are examining whether minor offences such as riding without a ticket could be downgraded to administrative offences.
The so-called traffic light coalition, made up of the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, has similar plans for the possession of cannabis, which is to be legalised for adults.
What does the law say now?
At the moment, fare evasion is a criminal offence under Section 265a of the German Criminal Code (StGB) and is punishable with a fine of at least €60.
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Although the risk of having to serve a prison sentence for a one-off instance of travelling without a ticket is close to zero, for repeat offenders, for those with criminal records and those who refuse to pay the fine, a prison sentence is still a possibility.
It’s estimated that around 3.5 percent of bus and rail passengers travel without a ticket in Germany, so this could add up to quite a number of potential criminal cases.
Why change the law now?
The willingness to change the law is part of new federal Justice Minister, Marco Buschmann’s (FDP) plan to ease the burden on the judiciary in the coming years.
He wants to revise criminal law and, in particular, review petty offences which are putting a lot of extra pressure on the judicial system.
The Justice Minister told Der Spiegel: “Criminal law in particular is not an all-purpose weapon; as the sharpest sword of the rule of law, it is only a last resort.”
Therefore, he said that “criminal law will be systematically reviewed and modernisation will ensure that the burden on the judiciary is lightened”.