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Less traffic, more ticket sales: How the €9 ticket has impacted Germany

Germany's €9 ticket seems to have had the desired effect - with tens of millions of tickets sold and fewer cars on the roads, while it also appears to have had an impact on inflation.

Regional trains Erfurt
Numerous passengers wait on a platform for an RE3 regional train from Erfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

How popular has the ticket been?

According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), around 21 million people snapped up the travel deal for the month of June – and at the same time, traffic congestion in cities was reduced. 

“Together with the approximately 10 million subscribers who automatically receive the discounted ticket, the figure of 30 million tickets per month previously estimated by the industry has thus not only been reached, but even slightly exceeded,” VDV President Ingo Wortmann announced.

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

Though the initial figures represent the number of people who bought the monthly ticket in June, the VDV survey revealed that people are similarly keen to buy the ticket in July. Unveiled as part of its energy relief package, the ticket entitles buyers to travel on regional and local transport anywhere in the country for just €9 in the months of June, July or August.

People who have taken out subscriptions – or ‘Abos’ in German – can use their tickets like a €9 ticket and get the difference for the three months refunded. A similar scheme is in place for students with semester tickets, though the exact system for reimbursing the costs has been left up to universities. 

Less traffic on the road

Meanwhile, the €9 ticket appears to have a had a positive impact on road traffic, with noticeably less congestion in German cities since the introduction of the travel deal.

In an analysis conducted by traffic data specialist Tomtom for DPA, 23 out of 26 cities examined showed a marked decrease in congestion levels compared to the previous month.

“The data suggests that this decline is related to the introduction of the €9 ticket,” said Tomtom traffic expert Ralf-Peter Schäfer. “Commuters lost less time travelling to work and back by car in almost all cities surveyed in June than they did in May.”

Specifically, the experts compared rush-hour traffic jams on weekdays in calendar weeks 20 and 25. The time periods were chosen to rule out the impact of public holidays.

“In the first days after the introduction of the €9 ticket, Tomtom’s data showed hardly any effects of the measure on car traffic,” said Schäfer. “Since then, however, a positive effect on traffic flow can be seen in almost all cities in Germany that were studied.”

Together with the fuel discount, the €9 ticket also appears to have had an impact on inflation in Germany.

According to an estimate by the Federal Statistical Office, consumer prices rose by 7.6 percent in June compared to the same month last year. This is 0.3 percent lower than May’s figure of 7.9 percent and significantly lower than economists had initially estimated. 

Berlin Gesundbrunnen

Passengers buy tickets at Berlin Gesundbrunnen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Joerg Carstensen

Inflation has been on a near-constant rise for around 18 months, largely driving by meteoric rises in energy prices. The upwards momentum was only broken by government moves to ease the pressure on consumers, including the discounted fuel tax and the €9 ticket for public transport users. 

READ ALSO: German inflation slows in June as government steps in

What are people using the ticket for?

So far, it’s been unclear whether people are primarily using the ticket for holidays or local commutes, but early signs suggest that public transport use has become more popular since it was introduced. 

National rail operator Deutsche Bahn has reported an increase of 10 to 15 percent in its own regional transport in June compared to the level before the Covid crisis. However, the company is comparing June this year with demand at the end of 2019 during the winter months, so it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from the data.

However, passengers have reported that trains and buses have been busier – and packed at times – since the introducing of the cut-price ticket.

READ ALSO: How is Germany’s €9 ticket really affecting public transport

With construction work going on at record levels at the same time, passengers have also had to deal with numerous delays and cancellations. In many case, passengers with bicycles have been unable to board trains.

Deutsche Bahn’s regional division – DB Regio – said it had laid on an additional 250 journeys daily to cope with demand. However, given that there are around 22,000 regional train journeys every day, this is unlikely to have made much of a difference to passengers. 

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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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