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.

A regional train route with local stops, passing through Berlin.

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.

The train platform filling up…

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.

Finding a spot to sit in the bike carriage.

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.

Train car tetris.

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.

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30 comments

  1. Even in New Zealand it was always very easy to fill up a train on holiday weekends using cheap fares. NZR used to have extra carriages which they could bring out for busy periods. We are seeing a scaled down version of this with Te Huia with Saturday and school holiday trains running with additional carriages. The problem is on a day like to day. However if I had to travel today I would choose a train over driving on wet windy roads. I have travelled on German regional trains. From Mainz to Koblenz along the Rhine is very scenic there is lines on both sides of the river so you go down on one side and back on the other. I could imagine cheap fares could completely overwhelm such a service.

  2. I would pay 900 Euros to not have to be squeezed in breathing air those people had exhaled. Just hire a car next time.

    1. This would have the additional positive of PT users not having to listen to your constant complaints, so it would be a win-win!

      1. I’m not sure that Miffy can speak German, so I doubt that they would be paying much attention to him either way. But if he can indeed spreken Sie Deutschz, then it would be somewhat fascinating to listen to him spreken mit dem lange verbundene Wörter, ihr wisst schon, die ohne Enden, die alle miteinander verbunden sind….

    2. Suit yourself miffy. A sample of 1 is not statistically significant. Many people are happy to put on a mask (compulsory on German trains) and travel in comfort by rail.

      1. Which photo looks comfortable to you? A mask can slow transmission but if people are jammed in like sardines then it is unlikely the air will be turning over as fast as it needs to.

        We had to ride squeezed in from France to the UK once. An earlier fire meant half the trains were cancelled and when we boarded our train they announced seat allocations no longer applied. My kids sat on luggage racks I stood squeezed against others. For some reason train operators think if they can squeeze one more on then they should. I wish we had flown, they don’t do this shit.

        1. No, airlines don’t let you on at all, they just cancel the flight and tell you to try again ten hour later, or in the next day or two.

        2. At least airlines let you walk away. They also make sure everyone is seated and safe. Rail companies just keep squeezing because your safety and comfort means nothing to them.

        3. I’m pretty sure you can walk away from a train if it is too full, the benefit is you can still board if you really need to get where you need to go.

        4. Yes. In our case we boarded knowing we had seats, but it was only once on they told us seats were no longer reserved, so the people who were already seated got to keep them. They had the Eurostar looking like the Northern Line.

        5. The best trolls are on point:

          I see too many people in a poorly ventilated space for a long trip during COVID. At least the doors are opening regularly on the local service. Pity there are no openable windows.

          A large number of people are wearing inadequate surgical masks or worse on the platform.

          You would be wise to avoid this service.

    3. The alternative is to book a seat on the intercity or high speed trains, which aren’t covered by the nine euro ticket.

  3. I wonder, has there been a noticeable reduction in vehicle use since the ticket was launched? Or have people perhaps been travelling more?

    1. Early data indeed shows that very few car trips have been replaced by this. This is at least partially due to school holidays that people have more time to travel more. In addition, this summer there are a lot more events happening compared to the last two pandemic years causing a bounce back effect. Also, in some parts, annecdotal evidence suggests that more people in PT at peak hours force regular commuters to take the car for their trip.
      On the plus side, increased travel with relatively low environmental impact really helps the economy (especially tourism) in times of Covid and war.

  4. I was fortunate to live in Dortmund for 9years back in the 80/90s. The public transport system even then was great. Trams downtown for beers, local trains for gigs in Essen, Bielefeld and Dusseldorf and intercity for breaks in Paris, Munchen etc. The 9 euro tickets may be used by daytrippers/holiday makers but for those not used to PT travel( I don’t imagine many in Germany are not used to it mind) it also highlights how good PT actually is. Hope some of the Aucklanders I have met who say they have never been on a train in the city give it a go with the 50% discount.

  5. Imagine – Auckland kids being able to afford a train to our national parks and lakes for the day. That would be world changing for many.

    One day.

  6. A friend in Germany said the €9 ticket was a very cheap way to… remind him that he’s way better of in his car or on his motorbike. A 250km return trip between fairly large cities was hampered by train splitting chaos, nonsensical announcements, huge delays, unannounced late connections etc etc. The guy is a native and had his smartphone to help him. Happy it worked for you of course!

    1. Yes I guess that is the situation with the 9 Euro( a month! let’s not forget) just only using the local services. But you can still pay more and do the 350km trip Dortmund to Hamburg in under 3 hrs.

  7. Having a cheap monthly pass seems a lot more clever than a 50% fare – it ensures lots of trips rather than one. Half price fares are a political gimmick and not an emissions focused approach. I note that Treasury recommended against the extended fuel tax cut as it is contrary to the govt’s emission reduction targets.

    1. why not both? 50% fare in Auckland makes sense and it’s at reasonable level finally. Previous prices were a joke (especially for the service provided) and for most more expensive than driving. But it’s sad that in the city of that size there is still no good and reasonably priced day/weekly/monthly passes available

        1. Sorry my bad. I didn’t realize it’s also 50% off now. Well great then! But expecially for monthly ticket I feel like anything above $80 is still too much. Just count how many trips through how many zones you would have to make in a month to make that $107.5 work for you. I actually wonder exactly how many people buy monthly tickets from AT. That would be interesting information. And I feel that if you compare it (as percentage of PT users of course) to other cities around the world it would be extremely small number.

  8. Hey there, not quote the subject, but where in Berlin ate all the Kiwis? Looking for a Platform to join a Groupon, but i have no Facebook, elsewhere i didnt find Amy, the Pub die die to covid me thanks
    Cheers

  9. With the time frame of the ticket almost over (the last monthly pass expires on 31 Aug 2022), transport agencies have collected some more data. 52 million tickets were sold over a 3 month span and an additional 10 million people with regular monthly passes benefitted from the lower price. Approximately 10% of rides substituted a car ride. Overall, about 1.8 million tons of CO2 emissions could be saved. Of 78000 people surveyed while the ticket was available 43% stated that one of the reasons why they bought the ticket was to reduce car trips.
    Source (in German): https://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/9-euro-ticket-121.html

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