This is a guest post by Ella Kay. Ella is a New Zealander living in Berlin.
Germany’s €9 public transport ticket has presented a social experiment of great proportions and has been a key protagonist in the modeshift dialogue since its release at the beginning of June this year. Whether it is commentary about equity, reduced fare evasion, service quality or congestion and improved conditions for drivers on roads, the €9 Ticket has provided a prompt for many conversations with the result that the ‘whole of Germany is talking about public transport’. I’ve noticed that the interest has reached our own shores too, with a few mentions in the weekly roundup here and here, as well as some great commentary from Jan Tattenberg here. I finally managed to make use of the ticket last week, when I took a trip from Berlin to the Ostsee and collected a few insights from the trip to share.
But first, a quick explainer on the €9 Ticket and where it came from: The €9 Ticket was launched in late May this year alongside a federal commitment of €2.5 b to cover service costs. Approved as part of the ‘Energie-Entlastungspaket’ (‘Energy relief package’), the ticket is positioned to relieve people from increasing fuel and energy costs, as well as general inflation and cost of living pressure. The €9 Ticket is currently set to run from 1 June until the end of August. With the ticket, travellers can use all local and regional public transport across Germany for a flat cost of €9 per month. Like New Zealand’s experiment in half-price public transport fares, the €9 Ticket was introduced in conjunction with fuel tax relief for the same time period.
So, after the deal being in place for more than two months, I thought we might have avoided the hype and managed to sidestep an overcrowded trip. These hopes were dashed as we took our place on the platform along with at least a few hundred fellow travellers, knowing full well that we were boarding the train at the third main stop in Berlin and that we were likely to have missed any chance of getting a seat already. The week we travelled did fall within the school summer holidays for Berlin, and families were making the most of the cheap travel.
As the train pulled up to the platform at 8.48 am (as scheduled) we were syphoned onto the carriage in a wave of people through the nearest available door. An announcement came over the speaker asking people to keep back from the doors so that the train could get moving. After a few tries the doors were closed and we were off.
Without having paid much attention when boarding, we found ourselves in the bike carriage. Generally, bikes have priority in these designated carriages, but with so many passengers the floor quickly got filled with people crouching, sitting or standing, and the row of fold-down seats on one side of the carriage being used. I managed to secure a spot by firmly taking a seat on the ground and launching myself into a book.
In many cases the regional trains service routes that are also offered by high speed, long distance trains (ICE, IC, EC – not included in the scope of the €9 Ticket) but the services run slower due to stopping along the network. Every time we made a stop the occupants of the carriage underwent a kind of tetris challenge, shuffling around to let people (and their bikes) on or off the train. Every now and again someone would brave a trip to the bathroom, cautiously navigating through the full carriages to get there. About three quarters of the way through the trip, with many day trippers having already gotten off at lakes and national parks, I managed to get a seat and some relief for the growing pins and needles in my legs.
The small delays to departing each stop accumulated to make for a late arrival time of 11.37 am at the final stop (fourteen minutes later than the scheduled time of 11.23 am), which wasn’t as significant as I thought it would be. We made the call to not get the last train back at the end of the day, but even so the second to last train back to Berlin was even more packed than the trip there in the morning. By then we had reflected that being in the bike carriage was probably a stroke of good luck – these trains are two floors and the seated second floor would likely be just as packed and probably stuffier due to more direct sunlight and a more compact ceiling. We found our way onto the bike carriage for the trip home, taking a place on the carriage floor once again. This time there was no way we could get a seat, even later in the journey.
While I was glad to have the chance to make a trip out of Berlin so easily, we were also happy to finally make it home and exit the carriage once and for all. I can’t really complain about the offer at all, given that the same trip on the ICE train would have cost around €30 each way (unless booked in advance).
The €9 ticket has been dubbed a success based on early available data such as ticket sales and passenger numbers. However, commentary on long-term or ongoing impacts such as modeshift, emissions reduction and broader inflation relief is only emerging as the three months come to an end. The future of the €9 ticket also hangs in question. There have been suggestions to extend it even if that is at a higher cost point so it will be interesting to see any decisions being made as August comes to an end.