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Will Germany introduce a new transport offer after the €9 ticket?

German welfare and transport groups are calling for a new cheap transport deal to replace the €9 ticket in September.

€9 ticket
A ticket machine in Berlin advertises the €9 ticket. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Germany’s €9 monthly travel ticket has so far been incredibly popular, with 16 million people snapping up the deal within just a few weeks of the ticket coming on sale.

But social welfare advocates are already looking ahead to September – when the offer is due to end – and are calling on the government to keep affordable transport high on the agenda.

“Politicians must now seize the opportunity and set the long-term course for sustainable and affordable mobility by improving local and regional public transport and making it affordable for everyone,” Adolf Bauer, president of the German Social Welfare Association, told the Funke Mediengruppe.

Pointing to the level of demand for the €9 ticket, Bauer said the deal had shown how great the potential for local public transport use could be.

“It is imperative to use this momentum to develop a permanently discounted offer for public transport tickets,” he said.

One option that states are said to be considering is a €365 annual ticket that would work out at just €1 per day for unlimited local or regional travel. 

This idea has already been adopted in some German cities, but so far it has only been rolled out at a state level for individual groups like seniors or students.

To finance the subsidised travel, Bauer suggested raising taxes on large inheritances, assets and capital gains and “reallocating” the money into public transport and road redevelopment projects. 

READ ALSO: €9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

Munich U-Bahn ticket machine

A passenger on the Munich U-Bahn purchases a €9 ticket. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Hörhager

Left Party joins calls for €365 ticket

The Left Party (Die Linke) has also been upping pressure on the government to find a more long-term cheap transport solution when the €9 ticket ends. 

Left Party parliamentary leader Dietmar Bartsch told the Funke Media Group on Wednesday that ending the ticket without an alternative offer could be “fatal” for public transport use. 

“We should permanently replace the €9 ticket with a €1 ticket,” he suggested. “€1 a day or €365 euros a year – that’s all local transport should cost citizens.”

According to Bartsch, this would be “a sensible instrument against the effects of inflation, for social cohesion and climate protection.”

Kristian Ronneburg, the transport spokesperson for the Left Party in the Berlin House of Representatives, also urged the federal government to step in and provide funding for cheap trains and buses. 

“Increases in ticket prices after the expiry of the €9 ticket would be a disservice to the transport transition in our metropolitan region,” he said. “There needs to be continued public pressure on the federal government not to let things slide now, but to support the ticket permanently and enable attractive fares without neglecting the refurbishment, modernisation and expansion of the rail infrastructure.”

The Vienna example 

In Austria’s capital, Vienna, a €365 annual transport ticket had been a huge success, with less than 30 percent of city residents using a car to get around and almost 40 percent relying on public transport. 

However, some experts point to the fact that Vienna’s public transport network has also been consistently expanded and improved over several years, making it a more attractive proposition than, for example, public transport in Berlin. 

According to Karl-Peter Naumann, honorary chairman of Pro Bahn, the rail network and rail transport should first be expanded and prepared for greater demand before offering low-cost local transport.

Vienna night train

A night train pulls out of Vienna central station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/APA | Georg Hochmuth

At the same time, driving has to be made significantly more expensive, for example through higher parking fees.

“This is the only way to achieve a mobility transition and a shift from road to rail,” Naumann told the Funke Media Group.

The chairwoman of the conference of transport ministers, Maike Schaefer, also argued that in addition to the best possible nationwide ticket, the federal states needed higher regionalisation funds for better timetables and infrastructure. 

“All this should be put together in a big package for the transport turnaround in order to sustainably save CO2 in the transport sector,” the Bremen Senator for Climate Protection and the Environment told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Germany need to know about the €9 public transport ticket

FDP rule out €9 ticket extension

The €9 ticket is due to run throughout July and August as part of the government’s energy relief package. 

Although there is also a temporary fuel tax cut for drivers, the traffic light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) is hoping that the transport offer could encourage people to ditch their cars for the summer and take trains and buses instead. 

However, despite the enthusiastic take-up of the ticket, the pro-business FDP has been quick to rule out any extension of the deal beyond autumn, with Finance Minister Christian Lindner citing costs of more than a billion euros per month. 

“Steps towards free public transport are controversial because shortages (e.g. in seating) cannot then be controlled by price,” he said, adding that people could overwhelm the capacities of trains and buses. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s €9 ticket won’t continue in autumn, says minister

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

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