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

(CNN) — Walking from Brühl’s town center to the train station, I passed a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 18th-century Augustusburg Palace — one of Germany’s earliest examples of Rococo architecture — attracts visitors from all over the world. Brühl itself, 11 miles south of Cologne, has a beautifully pedestrianized main street, acres of parkland and the Max Ernst Museum — where the artist was born.

I didn’t mean to go to Brühl. I didn’t even intend to go around Germany. I had an overnight connecting flight to Düsseldorf and planned to finish some work at my hotel, and then walk around the city.

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

The writer went on a whim to the Augustusburg castle in Brühl.

Rick Neves/Adobe Stock

So I bought it, dropped off my stuff at my hotel, and headed straight back to the train 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 lived nearby, in Brühl. So after half an hour on the train, instead of exiting the station in Cologne, 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 old home.

A trip to Düsseldorf to Brühl costs 9 euros one way — for that price I get a return trip and two airport runs, instead of the “real” total of 24 euros. But it’s not just about saving 15 euros — for me, the 9 euro ticket gave me an idea of ​​what Germany has to offer. Even less than a day. I now look forward to returning. A Rococo palace is not enough.

Not just me. Germany’s decision this summer to offer unlimited regional travel for 9 euros a month — which ends a week from now, on August 31 — has been a barnstorming success.

Almost 60 million tickets were sold at the beginning of August, according to VDV, the Association of German Transporters — in other words, covering June and July.

This includes 10 million subscribers per month, who automatically received a 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 euro ticket was announced. He bought an Interrail card, which allows for unlimited train travel — but says the 9 euro ticket “opened up the rest of the network for us — the subway, trams and buses.

“It made it so easy to get around and took away any stress of figuring out what ticket to get. It saved us a lot of money even for the 11 days we spent in the country,” he said.

Better air quality

Air quality in Germany improved by 6% as 9 euro tickets were sold.

Air quality in Germany improved by 6% as 9 euro tickets were sold.

Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images

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

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

“Our paper documents that public transport subsidies like the 9 euro ticket, even in the short term, have the potential to promote more sustainable forms of transport and reduce air pollution.”

The project ends at the end of the month, but it has sparked a move for more affordable, and greener, public transport. From September until the end of the year, most train travel in regional Spain is completely free.

And Germany itself — having seen its predictions of 30 million tickets sold each month — is now considering 69 euro-a-month tickets.

Gathering momentum

The ticket is heavily subsidized, but another unlimited travel ticket, which costs more, is an option.

The ticket is heavily subsidized, but another unlimited travel ticket, which costs more, is an option.

Arne Dedert/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images

That equates to 824 euros per year — less than the 1,095-euro annual Klimatiket in Austria, which allows public transport for a year.

Oliver Wolff, CEO of VDV, said that the “momentum” of the 9 euro ticket “created a situation that we can’t get back.”

He wrote in a statement that the 9 euro price was only affordable for three months, and proposed a new monthly ticket to be introduced for 69 euros.

“Government-commissioned market research… and other findings paint a clear picture of the possibilities and limitations of a nationwide public transport climate ticket as a connectivity solution,” he said.

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

A spokesman for the German Ministry for Digital and Transport told CNN that the ticket is a “relief measure” to deal with rising energy and fuel prices. “The coalition must decide to what extent such relief measures will be continued now. The question of financing will be important,” they said.

They added that Volker Wissing, federal minister for digital and transport, set up a working group when he took office in December 2021 “to work together for an expansion and modernization pact to be discussed by the transport ministers’ conference in autumn

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

Niklas Gohl, author of the air pollution paper, said that in the long term, the extent of the subsidy needs to be calculated.

The trains are full, but there are fewer tourists

Trains are often overcrowded as people rush to enjoy near free transportation.

Trains are often overcrowded as people rush to enjoy near free transportation.

Henning Kaiser/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images

The 9 euro ticket is not always fun. Travelers complained of packed trains at peak times, and Gaynanov saw this often. “The transport network cannot cope with the demand in a busy summer season,” he said.

“Every train we take is busy but popular day trip destinations have trains almost full, with no seats available.

“We literally couldn’t get on a train — it was where the first four carriages went to one place and the last four to another. We had to board a carriage that wasn’t full and change our destination as a result. .”

“Many services across the DB network are running with delays due to staff shortages. The solution for me is to have something similar but possibly outside the busy summer months.”

Although I had a taster, in my one day of using it. Connecting via Cologne on my way back from Brühl at rush hour, there were two security guards at the top of the stairs to the platform advising people where to stand. The train was so full that some passengers, unable to stand, sat in first class.

If these extra travelers are locals, domestic sightseers or international visitors attracted by cheap public transport in a summer where air turbulence reigns and car rental prices are sky high, has not yet been seen.

Figures released in August by Germany’s Federal Statistics Office, Destatis, showed that overnight stays in Germany increased by 60% in June 2022, compared to the previous year. However, that figure includes domestic tourists — analysis of foreign visitors won’t be available until December — and booking sites for foreigners tell a slightly different story. Germany trips on Lastminute.com and Germany specialist Enchanting Travels are down 25% this summer compared to 2019.

“While there is still a hangover from Covid-19, demand is definitely improving,” said Parik Laxminarayan, CEO of Enchanting Travels and USTO, predicting that 2023 will have “equal or higher” numbers than 2019 .

“While measures like the 9 euro ticket have undoubtedly led to an increase in domestic travel within Germany, it has not had an impact on our business. Cheap tickets for public transport can be great for locals , but it’s not a selling point for a US guest buying a custom-made trip to Europe,” he said.

Wherever the extra visitors come from, Wolff said the price hike to 69 euros is the golden ratio — affordable enough to encourage drivers to get their cars out, but not so cheap that the million- million randoms (like me) clog trains with spur. -of-the-minute trips. That procedure would cost about 2 billion euros, he said.

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

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

Boris Breytman/Adobe Stock

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

On August 2, the government called for proposals to make local transportation more integrated. And a week before the 9 euro ticket disappeared, there was a new environmentally friendly announcement of a hydrogen-powered train for the 60-mile track in Lower Saxony.

So will Germany join Austria and introduce Klimatiket? So far, there is no confirmation.

But with the climate crisis intensifying, and Europe’s rivers drying up this summer, the success of the 9 euro ticket will no doubt be on the minds of politicians this autumn.