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Germany: Lindner puts price of 49-euro ticket up for debate

June 29, 2024

Should Germany invest in modernizing its railways or stick with a cheap Deutschlandticket? Finance Minister Christian Lindner argues this might be an either or decision, as the coalition argues over next year's budget.

Regional trains in Germany
For just €49 per month, the Deutschlandticket allows its owner to use public transport and regional trains throughout GermanyImage: Daniel Vogl/dpa/picture alliance

Tens of billions of euros will be needed to modernize Germany's rail network in the coming years, prompting Finance Minister Christian Lindner to reignite the debate about raising the price of the Deutschlandticket.

"At some point, politicians will have to decide whether we want to invest more in the railways or whether the price should remain at €49 (roughly $52.50)," the leader of the liberal FDP told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

The price of the ticket launched in 2023 has been controversial for some time. It allows unlimited travel nationwide for a month, but not on high-speed, long-distance trains.

A similar ticket was first launched, with a much lower €9 price tag, as a stimulus measure in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic — meaning the current, increased price when the plan became permanent had already faced some criticism.

The federal and state governments each subsidize the service to the tune of €1.5 billion a year.

However, they have only guaranteed the price for this year. This means that the Deutschlandticket could become more expensive for users as early as 2025.

Not enough money for railway infrastructure

By 2030, the Deutsche Bahn plans to overhaul 40 busy lines to make them more punctual and reliable. The reliability of the German railways has come into sharp international focuse further during the Euro 2024 football tournament, with many fans arriving late or missing matches because of delayed trains.

The ruling coalition had set the necessary investment volume for the railways at €45 billion until 2027.

This sum was reduced to €27 billion after Germany's Constitutional Court ruled in November that a move to redirect €60 billion of unused debt from the pandemic era to a climate fund was unconstitutional. Significant parts of the rail restructuring were to be financed from this fund.

Recently, Transport Minister Volker Wissing has also announced plans to cut the rail budget by €1 billion in favor of the company overseeing the autobahn or highway network.

Coalition debates over next year's budget are currently faltering and unresolved, Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently said to expect further word in July, before parliament's summer break. 

Truly revolutionary? Germany's €49 public transport ticket

Political discussion about the 49-euro ticket

Scholz's Social Democrats are contradicting their liberal coalition partner, a senior member Detlef Müller told dpa the Deutschlandticket was an "absolute success project."

"An important factor for this success is the predictability and price stability of the offer. Both must not be up for discussion in the budget negotiations," he said.

The Deutschlandticket has also long been criticized by the opposition. The deputy chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Ulrich Lange, said on Saturday: "Now it will probably turn out as we always predicted with the 49-euro ticket. The money invested in the overpriced nationwide public transportation ticket is needed in other important areas, such as rail infrastructure."

"There is no point in offering a ticket if the tracks are broken and the trains do not run," Lange added.

Idea from Thuringia

Meanwhile, the prime minister of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow, has called for a special fund of €100 billion.

"At least €100 billion would have to be mobilized over 10 years to modernize the core of the railways," he told the news magazine Der Spiegel.

Asked if he was calling for a special fund like the one for the Bundeswehr, he said: "That would be my approach, yes. But it should be a solution independent of the federal budget."

According to Ramelow, the special fund should be linked to the railroad's assets, i.e. the rail network. "In this way, we create an institution that is itself creditworthy," he said.

dh/msh (AFP, dpa)