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Germany launches €49 monthly public transport ticket

Helen Whittle
April 4, 2023

The coalition government has launched a €49 monthly travel ticket to help ease the cost of living and promote the use of public transport. How revolutionary is it?

Commuters wait to board a train at Berlin Central Station.
The German rail network needs investment in trains and infrastructureImage: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

On April 3, Germany's new €49-ticket went on sale after Transport Minister Volker Wissing of the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) announced the government would liberate public transport from the nationwide "tariff jungle."

Available to buy online as part of a digital subscription, residents and tourists will be able to travel on local and regional public transport networks across the country for €49 ($53.50) a month from May 1, 2023.

The €49 "Deutschland Ticket" is being introduced to help ease the cost of living while making public transport simpler, more affordable and thus more attractive for commuters in the so-called "car nation." 

The idea is that encouraging more people to switch from cars to trains will also help Germany to achieve its climate targets. However, long-distance travel on buses, as well as on trains such as the high-speed Intercity Express, or ICE, is not covered by the ticket.

Germany's Transport Minister Volker Wissing of the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) pictured at a party conference in Berlin.
Transport Minister Volker Wissing has said the €49 ticket will liberate Germany from the 'tariff jungle'Image: Jörg Carstensen/dpa/picture alliance

Luxembourg became the first county to introduce free public transport for both residents and tourists nationwide in March 2020.

And Malta introduced free public transport for holders of a smart card — available for a €15 registration fee — on the majority of its bus routes last October.

Several European towns and cities, including the Estonian capital, Tallinn, and Dunkirk in France have also introduced similar schemes.

In Austria, commuters can travel on all public transport anywhere in the country with its KlimaTicket ("Climate Ticket") for €1,095 a year with concessions for the disabled and families, among others.

Vienna reduced the price of an annual season ticket for public transport to €365 in May 2012.

Cut-price summer success

The €49-ticket is the successor to the wildly popular €9-ticket, itself the result of a political compromise between the ruling parties last summer to help mitigate the cost-of-living crisis.

As the price of gasoline and diesel hit record levels in the wake of Russia's war in Ukraine, the FDP proposed a fuel tax cut to help ease the burden on car and truck drivers.

In response, the Greens insisted on similar support for public transport users and the €9-ticket was introduced from June to August. Over 52 million tickets were sold, according to the Association of German Transport Companies.

"It's quite important, I think, to say that throughout this process no one has really stopped to design this ticket," Jon Worth, an expert on transport and EU policy based in Berlin, told DW.

"The €49-ticket will almost certainly lead to changes in behavior that will be permanent, but exactly what those changes will be we don't yet quite know."

The new ticket will cover all regional and local trains in Germany
Over 52 million €9 tickets were sold in Germany last yearImage: Frank Bündel/rtn/picture alliance

Worth, a former Green Party candidate for the European Parliament, is "moderately optimistic" about the €49-ticket but said that the people who will see the biggest benefit are comparatively long-distance commuters on regional trains between cities.

Commuters from Aachen to Cologne typically pay €200 for a monthly ticket, and that will now be reduced to €49. But there is no way of knowing if the price incentive will be enough to get more commuters onto trains rather than driving.

"Car advocates tend to argue that the reason people tend to take their car is not a financial one, it's a comfort one. If the train is unreliable, or it's too full or maybe a bit grotty or unpleasant to take, whether it costs €200 a month or €49 a month is not the deciding factor," said Worth.

"So there's an argument that says it would be better to invest in more and nicer trains, onboard Wi-Fi, more reliable train connections, rather than reducing the price of existing tickets for commuters who can probably afford it anyway." 

Lukewarm reception

Not everyone is in favor of the €49-ticket. Some transport experts have said the cost of financing the scheme far outweighs its potential environmental benefits, at a time when the public transport network is in need of investment.

There is also criticism that the price of the €49-ticket is still much too expensive for the poorest people in society, with no concessions for students or people on low incomes.

Greenpeace in Germany has argued that a €29-ticket would encourage more people to buy it and that increased income from ticket sales would offset the reduced price.

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

In Berlin, commuters have been able to travel on public transport within the Berlin metropolitan area with a €29 monthly pass since last October.

Welfare recipients have also been able to travel with the €9 "social ticket," introduced in January. That scheme is set to be extended until at least December, while the €29-ticket will now be replaced by the Deutschland Ticket in May.

Researcher Claudia Hille conducted a study on the impact of the €9-ticket in six low-income districts in the city of Erfurt. She told Die Zeit newspaper that the new €49-ticket does not reflect the financial hardship faced by low-income households, and said many people would like to see concessions for children, young people and pensioners.

"Freedom is a term that was frequently mentioned. The €9-ticket made people feel less lonely, especially pensioners," Hille told Die Zeit.

Uncertain future

Despite its popularity, there is little evidence that the €9-ticket encouraged more people to ditch their cars in favor of public transport.

The Association of German Transport Companies estimated that the resulting reduction in car use led to a cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 million metric tons in just three months.

But the cheaper tickets led to an overall increase in the number of people making journeys they otherwise would not have made.

The tickets were also twice as popular in cities than in rural areas, mostly due to a lack of available public transport connections.

Portrait of transport and EU policy expert Jon Worth who is "moderately optimistic" about the €49 ticket.
Transport expert Jon Worth is "moderately optimistic" about the €49 ticketImage: DW

"The €9-ticket didn't reduce car traffic by very much, true, but that wasn't really the aim. No one is going to change their behavior long-term based on a three-month experiment," said Worth.

He added that the €49-ticket will almost certainly lead to permanent changes in behavior, but that more is needed if Germany is going to get anywhere close to reaching its climate change goals in the transport sector.

The federal government has earmarked €1.5 billion ($1.63 billion) for the scheme between 2023 and 2025 to cover any deficit caused by reducing ticket prices by up to 50% — the rest will be met by local state governments.

However, there are already doubts over whether there will be enough money to keep the €49-ticket going forward, with public transport authorities desperate for more investment in trains and infrastructure at the same time as services are set to become busier.

"The aim is to keep it at €49 for the first two years. However, the next federal elections are in 2025 and I expect that the price of the Deutschland Ticket will be a hot political topic," said Worth.

Edited by: Ben Knight

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