Germany’s 9-euro ticket created ‘momentum’ for cheap public transport

(CNN) — Walking from downtown Brühl to the train station, I came across a Unesco World Heritage. The 18th century Augustusburg Palace – one of the first German examples of Rococo architecture – attracts visitors from all over the world. Brühl itself, 11 miles south of Cologne, has a pretty pedestrianized main street, acres of parkland and the Max Ernst Museum – the artist was born here.

I never wanted to go to Brühl. I didn’t even intend to go sightseeing in Germany. I had a connecting overnight flight via Dusseldorf and planned to do some work at my hotel and then walk around the city.

But then, on the advice of a member of staff at Dusseldorf airport, I changed my mind. I was about to buy a train ticket into town – 3 euros – when he suggested I take the 9 euro option (about $9). “You could go somewhere,” he said.

The writer went on a whim to Augustusburg Castle in Brühl.

Rick Neves/Adobe Stock

So I bought it, dropped off my things at my hotel and went straight back to the station. The plan was to go to Cologne, just to see its cathedral — because why not, when it’s free? But then I remembered that almost 100 years ago my family had lived nearby, in Brühl. So after half an hour on the train, instead of getting out of Cologne station, I changed platforms and got on another one. About 15 minutes later I was in Brühl. It was a completely spontaneous trip that allowed me to see my family’s former home.

A trip from Dusseldorf to Brühl would have cost 9 euros one way – for that price I got a round trip and two airport journeys, instead of the “real” total of 24 euros. But it wasn’t just about saving 15 euros – for me the 9 euro ticket gave me an idea of ​​what Germany had to offer. Even in less than a day. I can’t wait to go back now. A rococo palace is not enough.

I’m not the only one. Germany’s move this summer to offer unlimited regional travel for 9 euros a month – which ends a week from today, August 31 – has been a resounding success.

Nearly 60 million tickets had been sold by the start of August, according to VDV, the Association of German Carriers – in other words, spanning May and June.

This includes 10 million subscribers per month, who automatically received the ticket, 21 million tickets for June and 17 million for July.

UK travel blogger Alexei Gaynanov had already planned an 11-day trip to Germany when the €9 ticket was announced. He had bought an Interrail card, allowing unlimited train travel – but says the €9 ticket “opened up the rest of the network for us – the metro, trams and buses.

“It made it very easy for us to get around and took the stress out of knowing which ticket to take. It saved us a lot of money even in the 11 days we were in the country,” says- he.

Better air quality

Air quality in Germany improved by 6% as the €9 ticket went on sale.

Air quality in Germany improved by 6% as the €9 ticket went on sale.

Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images

And it didn’t just result in happy customers. A air quality study over the summer for the Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the University of Potsdam showed a “substantial drop in the air quality index of more than 6%”.

Author Niklas Gohl told CNN the effect was “most pronounced in urban agglomerations and areas with strong public transportation.” And he said that bodes well for the future.

“Our paper shows that a public transport subsidy such as the €9 ticket, at least in the short term, has the potential to promote more sustainable means of transport and reduce air pollution.”

The project ends at the end of the month, but it has sparked a shift towards more affordable and greener public transport. From September until the end of the year, a large part of regional train travel in Spain will be completely free.

And Germany itself – after seeing its forecast of 30 million tickets sold per month – is now considering a €69 ticket per month.

Gain momentum

The ticket was heavily subsidized, but another more expensive unlimited travel ticket is an option.

The ticket was heavily subsidized, but another more expensive unlimited travel ticket is an option.

Arne Dedert/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images

That would equate to 824 euros a year, less than the annual Klimatiket of 1,095 euros in Austria, which allows public transport for a year.

Oliver Wolff, CEO of VDV, says the “momentum” of the €9 note has “created a situation that we can no longer turn back”.

He wrote in a statement that the €9 price was only affordable for three months and suggested that a new monthly ticket be introduced for €69.

“The government-commissioned market study…and other findings paint a clear picture of the possibilities and limitations of a nationwide climate ticket for public transport as a connecting solution,” said he declared.

“We offer a nationwide ÖPNV-Klimaticket (climate ticket for public transport) for 69 euros per month as the right to one-way second class travel.”

A spokesperson for Germany’s digital and transportation ministry told CNN the ticket was a “rescue measure” to deal with rising energy and fuel prices. “The coalition must decide to what extent these relief measures should now be continued. The question of funding will be crucial,” they said.

They add that Volker Wissing, Federal Minister for Digital and Transport, set up a working group when he took office in December 2021 “to work together on an enlargement and modernization pact which will be discussed by the conference. transport ministers in the autumn”.

“This gives us the opportunity to make public transport much more convenient and attractive for all citizens,” they said.

Niklas Gohl, author of the air pollution article, argues that in the long run, the size of the subsidy should be calculated.

Crowded trains, but fewer tourists

Trains were often crowded as people rushed to take advantage of almost free transport.

Trains were often crowded as people rushed to take advantage of almost free transport.

Henning Kaiser/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images

The 9 euro note was not always fun. Travelers complained about crowded trains during rush hour, and Gaynanov often saw this. “The transmission network has been unable to keep up with demand in what is already a busy summer period,” he says.

“Every train we took was busy, but popular day-trip destinations had nearly full trains with no seats available.

“We literally couldn’t board a train – it was a train where the first four carriages went one place and the last four went another. We had to board a carriage that was not full and change our destination accordingly.”

“Many services on the DB network were running with delays due to a lack of staff. The solution for me would be to have something similar, but perhaps outside of the busy summer months.”

Even I got a taste the day I used it. Connecting via Cologne on my return from Brühl at rush hour, there were two security guards at the top of the stairs leading to the platform to direct people where to stand. The train was so crowded that some passengers, unable to stand, were seated in first class.

Whether those extra travelers were locals, domestic tourists, or international visitors lured by cheap public transport in a summer of flight chaos and sky-high car rental prices remains to be seen.

Figures released in August by Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, Destatis, showed that overnight stays in Germany increased by 60% in June 2022 compared to the previous year. However, this figure includes domestic tourists – an analysis of foreign visitors will not be available until December – and foreign booking sites tell a slightly different story. Trips to Germany on both Lastminute.com and Germany specialist Enchanting journeys fell by 25% this summer compared to 2019.

“Although there is still a hangover from Covid-19, demand is certainly growing,” said Parik Laxminarayan, CEO of Enchanting Travels and USTO, who predicts that 2023 will see numbers “even or superior” to 2019.

“Although measures such as the 9 euro ticket have undoubtedly led to an increase in domestic travel in Germany, this has not had an effect on our business. A low-cost ticket for public transport can be great for locals, but that’s not a selling point for an American customer buying a tailor-made trip to Europe,” he said.

Wherever those extra visitors are coming from, Wolff says the price increase to 69 euros is the golden ratio – affordable enough to persuade drivers to get out of their cars, but not so cheap as random millions (like me) clog the trains with spurs – trips by the minute. This plan would cost around 2 billion euros, he says.

Castle Falkenlust in Brühl was an unexpected delight for the CNN writer.

Castle Falkenlust in Brühl was an unexpected delight for the CNN writer.

Boris Breytman/Adobe Stock

And while he hoped the new program could be in place by September 1, when the current one ends, so far nothing has been announced – and a VDV spokesperson said he there was no time left to implement a new ticket in time for September.

On August 2, the government launched a call for proposals to make local transport more inclusive. And a week before the disappearance of the 9 euro note, there was a new ecological announcement of hydrogen trains for a 60-mile railway in Lower Saxony.

So, will Germany join Austria and introduce a Klimatiket? For now, there is no confirmation.

But with the climate crisis intensifying and Europe’s rivers drying up this summer, the success of the €9 note will undoubtedly be at the heart of politicians’ concerns this autumn.

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