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Activist fund pays fines for ticketless riders

Caleb Larson
September 5, 2022

To get the government to bring back the affordable ticket scheme, the activist group has created a fund to cover the fines of its members for ticketless riding.

Passengers boarding a German regional train
For three months, passengers could traverse Germany for just nine euro per monthImage: Arnulf Hettrich/imago images

An initiative by activists is attempting to continue Germany's popular 9-euro ticket scheme— which sold about 52 million tickets — though without official recognition. The ticket, which was available for just three months and allowed passengers to travel on local and regional public transit throughout Germany for just €9 ($8.92) per month, ended on August 31.

The low-cost ticket was introduced to ease the financial burden on consumers amid high inflation and sharply rising energy costs. Many people in Germany would like to see the payment scheme made permanent — and now a group is taking some unusual steps to continue paying just €9 per month.

Is Germany's €9-ticket a gimmick or a role model?

9 Euro Fund: how it works

The 9 Euro Fund uses paying members' monthly membership fees to fully cover fines its ticketless members incur while riding public transport — even for multiple penalties.

Demand for the 9 Euro Fund has been high. The campaign's spokesperson, Leo Maurer, told DW that "10,000 people have either become a member or donated" to the fund already — and 20 paying members have incurred fines.

The Fund's organizers recommend that passengers traveling without a regular ticket display a tag — printable from its website — clearly stating that the passenger is traveling without a ticket. The Fund's organizers believe publicly announcing their intentionally ticketless travel will spare passengers possibly being charged by authorities with obtaining services by fraud — a more serious offense than just incurring a fine for riding without a ticket.

The 9 Euro Fund began covering ticketless riders on Thursday following the end of the 9-euro ticket scheme. The fund's first day in operation coincided with a separate nationwide ticketless ride organized by the climate activist group Last Generation. The latter group told DW their goal was to show "that our government isn't even taking the easiest steps that are, so to speak, absolute no-brainers, to lower CO2 emissions and prevent us from a climate catastrophe."

Activists from other countries in Europe have organized similar funds. In Sweden, the Planka.nu campaign has offered passengers a ticketless travel scheme similar to the 9 Euro Fund for more than 20 years. Another initiative, called "yo no pago" ("I don't pay"), exists in Spain and covers the fines ticketless passengers incur.

Legal questions surround ticket activism

One of the 9 Euro Fund's main goals is to pressure the German government into extending the reduced-cost public transport ticket into the future. But the initiative's spokesperson told DW that the fund was not meant to be permanent, and that the group has not decided how long it will continue the initiative.

The group's strategy is another gray area. 

Benjamin Grunst, an attorney specializing in criminal law, told DW that the legality of the 9 Euro Fund’s tactics is murky. While the organization's offer to pay fines incurred while traveling without a ticket is legal, he said that public incitement to commit a crime — in some cases and areas, fare evasion may be against the law — would be a criminal offense. 

"The operators are sailing very close to the legal wind here," Grunst said. "I assume that the public prosecutor's office will promptly investigate whether there is an initial suspicion of a criminal offense."

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