Success or failure? – DW – 07/05/2022

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In the spring, the German coalition government announced that a deeply discounted national pass – the so-called €9 ticket – would be made available for June, July and August. Each pass entitles ticket holders to use Germany’s public transport network for one calendar month for just €9 ($9.38).

News of the scheme, designed to cushion the rising cost of fuel and living, generated excitement but led some to question whether the transport infrastructure would be able to cope with an expected increase in numbers. of passengers. It was significant that the national rail operator Deutsche Bahn had already warned in advance that travelers should refrain from taking bicycles on trains from June due to a lack of space.

German public transport authorities, which manage and operate transport networks across the country, have had little time to prepare. “We had to adapt our sales infrastructure and acquire additional buses, trains and personnel – although I must say that this was not possible at all times”, says Lars Wagner of the German Association of German transport (VDV). The umbrella organization represents more than 600 transit authorities and public transport companies nationwide.

Crowded trains

Many waited for crowded buses and trains during the Pentecost holiday in early June. And they were right. Many regional trains to the popular Baltic and North Sea coast were so packed that passengers had to be turned away. Bringing bicycles has become almost impossible.

This volume of passengers was however widely expected, specifies Wagner. Pentecost, after all, is a public holiday and a time when dozens of people typically travel across the country by bus and train each year. The VDV certainly expected crowds to head to popular holiday destinations, embark on weekend trips and visit Germany’s major cities.

Crowds wait to board a train at Hamburg's main station
There were large crowds at Hamburg’s main station over the Whitsun holiday weekendImage: Frank Bundel/rtn/picture alliance

Berlin and Brandenburg also saw a considerable increase in passenger numbers. Trains bound for the Baltic coast and other popular weekend destinations were very busy, says Joachim Radünz of the Berlin-Brandenburg transport authority (VBB).

Lack of service staff

The budget pass inspired many people who had never or rarely traveled by public transport to try it. Lawmakers had certainly hoped for this effect.

However, this caused a whole new set of challenges, says Wagner. Some of these inexperienced travelers did not know, for example, the stations. This, says Wagner, “caused delays, as disoriented passengers would get off a train on platforms trying to get their bearings, preventing others from exiting or boarding”.

Service staff at some stations helped travelers find their way and minimize delays. “In Cologne, I saw assistants helping passengers board crowded trains quickly so others could board,” says Dennis Junghans of the German Rail Alliance, an umbrella group that advocates for investment. increased in the country’s railway infrastructure. Junghans, however, says improvements are needed in the coming weeks. He hopes to see many more service staff assisting travelers at major German transport hubs.

Solid sales figures

So far there has been a strong demand for the German 9 euro pass. Some 21 million tickets were sold between May, when the ticket became available, and today in July, according to VDV estimates. In addition, some 10 million public transport subscribers also received the discounted pass.

Passengers getting off and on on a busy subway train in Berlin
In Berlin, passenger numbers are almost back to pre-pandemic levelsImage: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

Sales figures exceeded industry expectations, as did passenger numbers. Deutsche Bahn reported a 10% increase in the number of people taking regional trains in June. Berlin and Brandenburg saw an even bigger increase, with up to 25% more passengers on some routes, according to VBB spokesman Radünz. This almost restores the total number of passengers to what it was in the pre-pandemic era. Indeed, across Germany, “the 9-euro ticket took us back pretty much to where we were before COVID,” says VDV’s Wagner.

What’s the verdict?

Radünz says the discounted travel pass has been a resounding success in Berlin and Brandenburg, where many have chosen to take trains and buses instead of driving a car. He says “people were using the ticket on weekends, taking their kids and all their gear”, heading north to Berlin, the Spree Forest and other destinations.

But Wagner’s verdict is a bit more ambivalent. Although he is pleased that the 9 euro ticket has encouraged many more people to use public transport, he criticizes the financing of the system: “The Ministry of Transport is releasing 2.5 billion euros over three months to compensate for the shortfall caused by the low ticket price – and yet no money has been made available for additional staff, buses or trains.” With that in mind, he does not see how the program can continue after August At least not at €9 a ticket.

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