German government wants to ‘decriminalise fare dodging’

Landing in jail for fare evasion is still possible in Germany. But the coalition government wants to change this, according to a German news report.

A man stands on the platform of a subway station in Berlin while a train passes him. 
A man stands on the platform of a subway station in Berlin while a train passes him. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Immanuel Bänsch

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.

READ ALSO: ‘Controlled distribution’: How Germany will legalise recreational cannabis

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.

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. 

READ ALSO: No more ‘Schwarzfahren’: Austrian and German cities to phase out term due to racism concerns

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”.

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Majority of Germans in favour of ‘extending the €9 ticket’

The €9 ticket is set to expire at the end of the month. But more than half of Germans want the cheap travel deal to continue, according to a new survey.

Majority of Germans in favour of 'extending the €9 ticket'

In three weeks’ time, Germany’s cheap summer travel offer will come to an end. While members of the traffic light coalition government have been unable to agree on a continuation of the ticket, the majority of Germans are in favour of keeping the heavily-discounted travel card in place.

According to a survey conducted by the opinion research institute Civey for German news magazine Spiegel, 55 percent would like to see an extension of the ticket, which allows people to use public transportation throughout Germany for €9 per month. Meanwhile, 34 percent of Germans are against extending the offer. 

READ ALSO: Could drivers in Germany fund a future €9 ticket scheme?

The survey also showed that mainly Green Party supporters are for an extension of the €9 ticket, as more than two-thirds are in favour of continuing the deal. A majority of supporters of the Left Party and the SPD are also in favour of continuing the discount campaign.

Leading Green Party politicians have put forward proposals for a cheap successor to the €9 ticket: a regional ticket for €29 and a nationwide ticket for €49 a month. 

Meanwhile, FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner has heavily criticised demands for extending the cheap transport deal. On Monday he tweeted that a “freebie mentality is not sustainably financeable, not efficient and not fair”. He also told the  Augsburger Allgemeine that there is no scope for an extension in the federal budget.

The Spiegel poll backs up the results of a questionnaire conducted by The Local, which showed that 85.4 percent of readers want the €9 ticket to continue after August. Meanwhile, 47.2 percent of readers said that reduced cost was the most important issue for them in relation to public transport in Germany. 

READ ALSO: ‘Affordable and simple’: What foreigners in Germany want to see after the €9 ticket

Reader Asa from Hamburg, 26, told the Local “I’d love to see a successor to the €9 ticket supported. It’s given me the chance to explore the surrounding towns in a way that would otherwise be financially unviable.”

Bethany, a reader from Kaiserslautern, said she had replaced at least six long-distance car journeys with public transport in June and July.

“Before, the cost of taking a train wasn’t worth it. But now? I’ll put up with delayed trains for €9,” she said.