A ticket allowing people unlimited travel on Germany's trains and buses for just €9 ($9.28) a month has led to a large uptick in train trips, particularly in rural and tourist areas, the German Federal Statistical Office, Destatis, said on Thursday.
However, little change to road usage habits was discernible, according to the statisticians, in a blow to the hopes of many environmentalists.
What do the statistics say?
The number of train trips longer than 30 kilometers (19 miles) in July was 42% up on the same month in 2019, Destatis said. A similar increase was logged in June.
Comparisons are being made against 2019 figures because that was the last year when the COVID pandemic did not have a major negative influence on public transport usage.
In rural areas popular with tourists, the number of trips rose by an average of 80% in both June and July in comparison with the same period in 2019.
The rise was particularly high for middle-distance trips covering between 30 and 100 kilometers in such regions. The number of such journeys was more than double that of 2019, having risen 104%.
Increases were smaller for longer-distance journeys, but several factors could explain this. High-speed trains are not included in the €9 ticket, and long journeys on regional trains can be very time-consuming. And in much of Germany, the 2022 school summer holidays started later this year than in 2019, possibly meaning many families had yet to consider a long voyage by train.
Urban areas that are popular with tourists did not see as big a rise, with the number of trips in June and July 28% higher than in the same months of 2019.
Little to no change to road usage, however
Destatis said, however, that road transport continued to be the main method of travel for people, though the statistical method used — analyzing an aggregated and anonymized sample of mobile phone location data — did not allow a differentiation between car and bus trips.
It said that as a nationwide average, there was no change in the volume of road traffic in June and July in comparison with 2019, though there were some slight regional differences.
It said the number of trips by road of between 30 and 100 kilometers was, on average, slightly above that in 2019.
There were, however, fewer trips between 100 and 300 kilometers, a trend that increased for journeys longer than 300 kilometers.
Here, trips by road fell by 18% in all rural areas and by 10-12% in urban areas, depending on their touristic attraction.
What is happening with the ticket?
Tickets are set to return to their usual fares and restrictions as of September 1. For orientation, €9 would be unlikely to cover the fare for a single ticket between two comparatively nearby towns, say Bonn and Cologne, if booking at short notice. More comparable monthly passes do exist at better value, however.
The national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, as well as municipal associations, has called for a successor scheme, with ideas ranging from making the €9-ticket permanent to introducing much cheaper tickets for specific local areas.
There is also high public demand for cheaper transport possibilities, in view of the high inflation rate.
However, Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the neoliberal Free Democrats remains opposed to such ideas, saying there is no money available in the government's financial plan.
Lindner's party colleague, Transport Minister Völker Wissing, has however said he is open to some kind of permanently reduced offer but first wants to wait for convincing confirmation of such measures' effectiveness before deciding.
As a result, any continued fare reduction seems unlikely to come this year.
Edited by: Mark Hallam
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