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Has Germany’s €9 rail ticket been a success?

While prominent politicians have been hailing the sup cheap €9 rail deal as a triumph, trade unions have complained that the Germany-wide discount travel card caused chaos.

Has Germany's €9 rail ticket been a success?
Passengers wait on the track at Berlin Central Station as a regional express train arrives. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

The €9 ticket was launched just over six weeks ago as part of the traffic light coalition’s relief package to tackle rising energy costs.

According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), around 31 million of the special tickets were sold nationwide in June alone. This, according to Transport Minister, Volker Wissing (FDP), represents a “brilliant success”.

Less traffic on roads

One way in which the €9 deal seems to have been successful is in reducing traffic on the roads.

According to an analysis carried out by traffic data specialist Tomtom, there was a marked decrease in congestion levels in 23 out of 26 German cities in June compared to the previous month.

It seems that the large numbers of commuters snapping up the reduced travel ticket had a direct impact on traffic levels. Tomtom traffic expert Ralf-Peter Schäfer said: “The data suggests that this decline is related to the introduction of the €9 ticket.”

Railway companies feeling the strain

From the perspective of the railway workers’ trade unions, however, the rollout of the €9 ticket has been anything but successful.

Martin Burker, head of Germany’s largest rail workers trade union, EVG, told the Welt on Sunday newspaper: “I have never experienced such conditions as this summer. I saw on a train from Rostock to Hamburg how people literally fell out of the train when the doors were opened”.

Deutsche Bahn employees ask passengers at Gesundbrunnen station to get off the overcrowded Regionalexpress 5 to Rostock. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

He also said that the surge of passengers since the beginning of June has led to heavy wear and tear across the rail network: “We are noticing damage from the heavy use of the €9 ticket at a very early stage: elevators are defective, toilets on trains no longer work, everything is simply under a lot of strain”.

As a result, many railway staff are at breaking point: “The €9 ticket is making people sick,” he said.

The chairman of the GDL train drivers’ union, Claus Weselsky, also described chaos unlike anything he had ever experienced at Deutsche Bahn, while the Deutsche Bahn CEO, Richard Lutz, said that he was “suffering like a dog” as a result of delays.

The federally owned company is experiencing significant operational problems, leading to delays for many passengers. According to the company, only 58 percent of long-distance trains and 88.5 percent of regional trains reached their destinations on time in June.

Lasting legacy

Perhaps the biggest indicator of success, however, is the fact that the €9 ticket is set to impact the long-term future of rail travel in Germany. By attracting headlines and millions more commuters, the ticket offer has undoubtedly raised the profile of rail transport in Germany and drawn focus to the ways it needs to improve. 

In a bid to achieve more reliable operations and fewer roadworks disruptions, Deutsche Bahn and Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing have announced a “general overhaul” of key lines from 2024. “I expect that in the future we will once again be able to set the clock by the railroads,” said the FDP politician, who declared network renovation a “top priority.”

The Transport Minister also wants to put an end to what he calls Germany’s prevailing ‘fare jungle’, by simplifying the different regional fare zones.

With just under six weeks left until the discount travel offer runs out, several ideas for continued cheaper travel have already been floated. Though a follow-on measure has not yet been decided upon, it seems certain that there will be discount fares to follow.

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TRAVEL NEWS

When will Germany’s €49 ticket start?

Germany announced a €49 monthly ticket for local and regional public transport earlier this month, but the hoped-for launch date of January 2023 looks increasingly unlikely.

When will Germany's €49 ticket start?

Following the popularity of the €9 train ticket over the summer, the German federal and state governments finally agreed on a successor offer at the beginning of November.

The travel card – dubbed the “Deutschlandticket” – will cost €49 and enable people to travel on regional trains, trams and buses up and down the country.

There had been hopes that the discount travel offer would start up in January 2023, but that now seems very unlikely.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

Martin Burkert, Head of the German Rail and Transport Union (EVG) now expects the €49 ticket to be introduced in the spring.

“From our point of view, it seems realistic to introduce the Deutschlandticket on April 1st, because some implementation issues are still unresolved”, Burkert told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland. The Association of German Transport Companies, on the other hand, considers the beginning of March to be a realistic start date.

The only thing that seems clear regarding the start date is that it will be launched at some point in 2023.

Why the delay?

Financing for the ticket is continuing to cause disagreements between the federal and state governments and, from the point of view of the transport companies, financing issues are also still open.

Burkert from EVG said that the federal government should be prepared to provide more than €1.5 billion for the ticket if necessary.

“Six months after the launch of the Deutschlandticket at the latest, the federal government must evaluate the costs incurred to date with the states and, if necessary, provide additional funding,” he said. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn has warned that the network is not prepared to cope with extra demand. 

Berthold Huber, the member of the Deutsche Bahn Board of Management responsible for infrastructure, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that a big part of the problem is the network is “structurally outdated” and its “susceptibility to faults is increasing.” 

Accordingly, Huber said that there is currently “no room for additional trains in regional traffic around the major hub stations” and, while adding more seats on trains could be a short terms solution, “here, too, you run up against limits,” Huber said.

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