German €9 rail ticket to ride reaches its terminus – The Irish Times

Germany’s summer of public transport love ends on Wednesday when its €9 ticket phenomenon – a 30-day pass for urban and regional public transport – ends after a three-month run.

Originally introduced to tackle inflation and rising petrol prices, more than 52 million €9 tickets have been sold since June and one billion journeys taken – delivering a remarkable climate boost.

A survey of 78,000 ticket users since June found that the summer switch from air and road to rail travel saved Germany about 1.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – equal to 70 per cent of annual emissions from Dublin Airport.

A separate survey, based on mobile phone data, suggested train journeys were up 42 per cent from June to August, compared to same period in 2019.

“If we are to take seriously transformation of transport and climate change we must act now,” said Oliver Wolff, chief executive of Germany’s alliance of transport associations (VDV), behind the surveys. “The ticket has been very successful and it’s worth thinking about continuing it.”

After a rushed introduction in June, early horror stories of sweaty, packed trains meant the €9 ticket was disowned as a failed political orphan. Three months later, it is a success with many fathers.

While Berlin’s federal government claims credit with a €2.5 billion subsidy, Germany’s 16 state capitals who operate public transport contest that claim – pointing out that they made it happen, and at short notice.

Despite its runaway success, and with inflation nearing eight per cent, Germany has been unable to agree a successor ticket.

As so often with German public transport these days, too many political cooks and budget rows means the €9 ticket is ending on August 31st with a missed connection.

Deutsche Bahn (DB), Germany’s state-owned rail company said it remains open to ideas, noting that one in five €9 ticket users were not regular train customers.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, too, hailed the ticket as a “big success” and made vague promises for a successor. His centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) floated the idea of bankrolling a permanent €9 ticket with a new tax on energy companies’ excess profits.

But federal finance minister Christian Lindner, head of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) and no fan of giveaways financed by new taxes, has refused to entertain the €15 billion subsidy required for an all-year €9 ticket.

Instead he has called for simplified tariffs across Germany’s more than 500 regional transport companies, passing the parcel to state capitals. They in turn have passed it right back, demanding Berlin make concrete proposals.

“The results of the market research show clearly that people want public transport – if the ticket is simple to understand and can be used everywhere flexiby,” said Maike Schaefer, chairwoman of the state transport minister commission.

A final survey of €9 ticket holders showed that price was the greatest motivator (69 per cent) to buy, while with every second person was motivated by the flexibility it offered.

Particularly popular with families (children travelled free on €9 tickets) and older passengers (Germany has no free travel for over-65s), platforms at stations around the country have been noticeably more full this summer.

Despite a regular squeeze on popular routes, some 88 per cent of those surveyed said they were happy overall with the scheme. At Berlin central station, many expressed disappointment that the offer was ending just as they were getting used to it.

“I just walked out the door yesterday and took the train to see the new U-Bahn stations on the 5 line,” said Walter Wendlandt, a retired teacher. “Once I got here I saw a train leaving for Magdeburg, so I just jumped aboard that and visited the grave of Emperor Otto the Great.”

Anxious to be an early adopter, Berlin’s centre-left city state government has floated the idea of continuing the €9 ticket for local and regional trains, at an estimated cost of €340 million annually. Berlin’s governing mayor Franziska Giffey is hopeful she can get neighbouring Brandenburg to sign up and have the new ticket on sale from October 1st.

Ahead of a crunch meeting of politicians and transport operators on Thursday, she warned: “If we want to achieve this we have to act quickly.”

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