Public transport is not cheap in Germany. In Berlin, for example, the monthly subscription for the two most central areas costs 86 euros per month; a single ticket, three euros. For this reason, the decision of the Olaf Scholz coalition government to create a ticket of only nine euros per month to use on the metro, bus and even on the regional train network has created enormous expectation. Will they be saturated at rush hour in the big cities? Will exclusive islands like Sylt fill up with weekenders at the chance to get on the train or ferry for free? The offer, which this Friday has been definitively approved by the upper house of the German Parliament, will last all summer, from June 1 to August 31.
In a country that has seen how a liter of gasoline and diesel has risen above two euros, government efforts have focused on mitigating the cost of energy. Direct payments to families have been approved so they can pay for heating, reduced fuel taxes and tax relief. But perhaps the most controversial measure is the nine euro ticket. To begin with, it has generated friction between the Executive and the 16 federal states, which tremble at the hole it can make in their budgets. Transport companies have also sounded the alarm: they claim to be unprepared for the multiplication of passengers that the measure will bring.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has given impetus to German efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The authorities constantly call for energy savings. Even the largest association of motorists in the country, ADAC, has asked drivers to leave the car at home if they can. The public company that manages the capital’s swimming pools has announced that this summer bathers will find the water – which in many cases is heated with natural gas – between one and two degrees cooler. The payment of nine euros aims to take vehicles off the road. “We want citizens to know the possibilities offered by public transport, to use it and to integrate it permanently into their daily mobility,” said Transport Minister Volker Wissing after announcing it.
Its inclusion in the billionaire aid package to alleviate rising energy prices is a victory for the Greens, the party that, along with Scholz’s Social Democrats and the Liberals, has governed Germany since last December. Faced with the liberals, who advocated tax cuts, the environmentalists wanted at least one of the measures to have to do with promoting public transport and to be attractive. Being able to travel three months throughout Germany for 27 euros certainly meets these premises.
More than half of Germans commute between 15 and 60 minutes each day to get to work, and the costs of those journeys, whether by private vehicle or public transport, have been rising steadily in recent years. A recent poll by Infratest Dimap for public television ARD asked citizens if they planned to use the nine-euro subscription. 30% of those who live in small towns said yes, compared to 44% of medium-sized cities and 60% of large cities. The fear of transport operators in cities such as Berlin or Munich is understandable, where at certain hours buses and subways are already highly loaded, although not as much as before the pandemic.
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In Berlin, the largest crowds are expected on weekends, on trips to recreation areas near the capital. The transport authority (VBB) has announced reinforcements on regular buses and trains for excursions to lakes such as the Wannsee. Its spokesman warned that it is likely that there will be no seats on usually very crowded routes, such as Baltic Sea beach destinations.
Critics of the proposal believe that summer is not the best time to launch cheap transport. Advocates argue the opposite: it guarantees equal opportunities, so that low-income people can go not only to work, but also afford leisure and nature trips. The fear of the inhabitants of the island of Sylt, a destination frequented by wealthy Germans, of hordes of visitors, has provoked a mocking campaign on social networks that encourages encroach the location. “It’s going to be the new Mallorca,” Twitter users joke these days. A Facebook event to cause “days of chaos” on the island has 3,000 confirmations, according to the local press.
All citizens will have the right to buy the subscription, which they can use in local transport in their municipalities, but also in the regional trains of Deutsche Bahn (the public railway company) throughout the territory. In other words, it will be possible to travel by train between cities as long as the InterCity Express (ICE) are not used, high-speed trains that connect the largest cities in the country.
The federal government has promised the land an aid of 2,500 million euros to face the drop in income for the next three months. The majority of States consider that it is not enough and continue the negotiations to scratch more budget from Berlin. In total, it is estimated that the measure will cost around 15,000 million euros.