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EXPLAINED: How is Germany’s €9 ticket really affecting public transport?

The widely anticipated cheap travel card came into force across Germany last week and the bank holiday weekend was a bumpy ride for the start of the offer. We explored what's going on.

Travelers with bicycles stand on a platform at the main station after they were unable to board a regional train on the RE5 line to Rostock due to overcrowding.
Travelers with bicycles stand on a platform at the main station after they were unable to board a regional train on the RE5 line to Rostock due to overcrowding. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

What is the €9 ticket?

The €9 ticket is a nationwide, monthly travel card, which allows travellers to use all means of local public transport for only €9 a month. It is available to use for June, July and August.

The coalition government brought in the measure as part of a package of relief measures back in February aimed at helping to ease the cost of living crisis.

READ ALSO: ‘Extraordinary experiment’: Millions of people snap up Germany’s €9 ticket

The offer launched last Wednesday, just in time for the June Whitsun bank holiday weekend. 

It’s proven very popular so far. By May 30th, Deutsche Bahn alone had sold around 2.7 million €9 tickets and regional travel authorities have reported huge hikes in ticket sales – in Berlin, for example, 930,000 €9 tickets had been sold by midnight on Saturday. 

What happened over the weekend?

Rail traffic over the Whitsun weekend was apparently much more prone to disruptions than usual. Vice-chairman of the General Works Council at DB Regio, Ralf Damde, told the German Editorial Network that there were about 400 overcrowded trains on each day over the long weekend.

READ ALSO: €9 ticket: Hundreds of German trains ‘overcrowded’ on long weekend

“All over Germany, the platforms and the trains were full, and in several cases, overcrowded trains had to be cleared”, Damde said.

In total, there were around 700 reports of congestion, problems with passengers, or disruptions to the operations centre per day. This was significantly more than on an average weekend and also than on the last Whitsun weekend before the pandemic, he said.

The massive additional demand for personnel meant that rail staff had to work thousands of hours of overtime over the weekend. According to Damde, the increased demand for personnel and time was due to the fact that many passengers without rail experience were unable to find their way around the platforms.

“Overall, passengers needed significantly more assistance than usual. This included the fact that many people who hadn’t ridden a train in a long time didn’t know that masks are still mandatory on public transport.”

What are people saying?

There have been many social media posts complaining about full trains and delays, and attributing these problems to the €9 ticket.

A politician from the city of Erkrath in North-Rhine Westphalia, for example, tweeted that his €9 ticket experience resulted in the train being cleared due to overcrowding and concluding that “the future of mobility still belongs to the automobile”.

But isn’t it always busy at this time of year?

Many people are also pointing out that crowded trains over the Whitsun weekend are nothing new, and that rail transport always runs into difficulties at this time of year.

One tweet which has been shared many times is a list of German media headlines from previous years which shows that the June bank holiday weekend is usually beset by transport problems.

A spokesperson for the local transport service in Schleswig Holstein, which covers the island of Sylt, told The Local: “It was sometimes very crowded on the trains, but that is not unusual at Whitsun (especially when the weather is nice). We can’t say yet what effect the €9 ticket had.”

Has the €9 increased tourism? 

Before the €9 tickets went on sale, there were several reports that some popular German tourist destinations were about to be besieged by a huge influx of visitors.

One place, apparently particularly concerned was the island of Sylt in Schleswig-Holstein, which is known as a retreat for the wealthy and well-to-do.

READ ALSO: What is Sylt and why is it terrified of Germany’s €9 holidaymakers?

Reports from the weekend have shown that the €9 ticket has indeed attracted a new variety of visitors to the island – including several alternative visitors who the German media are calling ‘punks’. But the picture so far is not a negative one. 

A group of punks strolls through the pedestrian zone of Westerland on the island of Sylt.

A group of people stroll through the pedestrian zone of Westerland on the island of Sylt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

A police spokesman stressed that the situation on Sylt was calm. A group of 50 to 80 people from the punk scene, who had been on the island for several days, had been “a little loud”, but that was nothing special, he said.

Speaking to Focus.de, a retired couple from Göttingen, who have been going to Sylt for several years, said: “As long as they don’t break anything here and only party a little louder, I think it’s absolutely fine that they’re here.”

How will the €9 ticket impact the future of public transport in Germany?

Speaking to the German press agency DPA last week, Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing described the €9 ticket as a “field test” to see how much price puts people off using public transport, and whether more attractive offers are needed to attract new passengers.

“This way, we can gain important insights into exactly this question and align our public transport offerings accordingly.” Greater use of public transport helps to achieve climate protection targets in the transport sector, he said.

An opinion piece in the Suddeutsche Zeitung called the ticket a “revolution”, as it has overcome the disparate nature of German transport, where every region has its own zones, short and normal routes, prices, and apps.

The €9 ticket, the author argues, is the something that has managed to unite public transport, and could pave the way for further reforms in the future.

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TRAIN TRAVEL

More staff, longer transfer times: How rail travel in Germany is being improved

Germany's state-owned railway operator wants to make life easier for passengers with longer transfer times and a boost in staff numbers.

More staff, longer transfer times: How rail travel in Germany is being improved

For most people who have travelled by train this summer, the frustration of delayed and cancelled services and missed connections will be all too familiar. 

Since the pandemic, Deutsche Bahn – Germany’s primary rail operator – has struggled to offer a reliable service to passengers, with just 58 percent of trains departing within five minutes of the scheduled time. To make matters worse, this figure doesn’t take into account the numerous services that have been cancelled outright – a situation that is also happening much more frequently.

READ ALSO: The shocking state of German trains exposes the myth about punctuality

To try and improve the customer experience, DB plans to shake up the way long-distance rail journeys are planned and advertised.

In future, potential delays to services will be factored into the journey plan on the DB Navigator app and internet booking portal. 

In concrete terms, this will mean that customers are given longer times to transfer so that the chance of missing their connection is much less likely. 

For example, if the quickest connection is five or six minutes after the first train is scheduled to arrive, the app may suggest the next train 10 or 15 minutes later to give passengers more of a buffer in the event of delays. 

“We no longer show tight connections that are difficult to achieve in the current operational situation when planning and booking,” said DB board member Michael Peterson.

There won’t be a set transfer time that the company believes is realistic. Instead, current issues and performance statistics on certain stretches of the train line will guide whether an eight or 12 minute transfer seems realistic. 

‘Easier to plan’

Though the quickest connection may not automatically show up on DB’s app or website, customers who end up making an earlier train won’t face any issues with the ticket inspector.

This applies even if the ticket appears to tie the passenger to a specific train service, Peterson said. 

Customers will also be given the flexibility to choose shorter or longer transfer times based on their preferences. Though this may lead to longer journeys, it could help prevent missed connections. 

“We want to make travelling easier to plan,” explained Peterson. “The fastest connection is not always the most reliable.”

READ ALSO: How to find cheap train tickets in Germany

People board an ICE train at Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

People board an ICE train at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

The change to the ticket planning system will also have an impact on the company’s reimbursement policy.

If customers pick a connection that’s shown on the DB Navigator app or website and then miss their second train and face delays to their journey, they’ll still be entitled to compensation. For instance, an hour-long delay would equate to a 25 percent refund of the ticket price. 

However, if the quickest connection isn’t shown on the app but customers decide to risk it anyway, they won’t be entitled to their money back in the event of delays.

According to passenger advocacy group Pro Bahn, the new ‘buffer’ system for transfers should have a positive impact and reflects what many savvy rail travellers have been doing of their own accord.

Pro Bahn also assumes that the new transfer times will run until around 2024, when widespread construction work will begin on the railways.

More staff and seating

Alongside the more generous transfer times, Deutsche Bahn announced on Wednesday that it would be running a staffing offensive to help prevent delays.

This involves deploying almost 1,000 additional staff on long-distance trains and at stations.

This will include 750 additional staff on trains, 130 on particularly crowded platforms, and 100 assistants who will help passengers get on and off the train and find their seats.

They will join around 8,000 existing employees in DB’s long-distance division.

In addition, the company plans to invest around €10 billion in expanding its fleet and adding more seating by 2029. As a first step this year, the ICE fleet will grow to 360 trains, adding around 13,000 more seats for passengers. 

Though long-distance passenger numbers are still slightly below their record of 151 million in 2019, Peterson said DB was experiencing a “historic run on the railways” this year. 

READ ALSO: ‘We’re running late on this’: Deutsche Bahn promises better Wifi on German trains by 2026

Crowds gather on the platform at Cologne central station

Crowds gather on the platform at Cologne central station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Banneyer

Transport performance, i.e. the number of kilometres travelled, reached a record high between May and July, according to the rail operator. “People are travelling further distances by rail than they did before the pandemic,” the company explained.

When it comes to the larger problems faced by German railways, such as the need to upgrade large stretches of the network, improvements could take years.

Speaking to Welt, Peterson said that the current changes were more than just a token gesture. 

“These are not decisions taken out of desperation, but measures that will help in a concrete way,” he stated.

However, the DB board member admitted that there was still a “long way to go” in solving the rail networks’ wider problems.

READ ALSO: How the Greens want to replace Germany’s €9 ticket deal

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