9 euro ticket “Great Chance”; “Travel travel has never been so cheap.” A local transfer ticket will be a “real success”; Seven million were already sold in the first few weeks. This is what Transport Minister Volker Wessing (FDP) and Federal Government Commissioner for Rail Transport, Michael Thürer (FDP) looked like.
In light of the war in Ukraine, the climate emergency and the need to phase out fossil fuels, the attack on public transport in general and rail transport in particular has been delayed. But that’s all we can say positively about the €9 ticket. Criticism of the concrete form of this support prevails. Sure enough, the balance sheet in September will show that, but the problems are already evident at the start of the procedure. The discount will continue to burden the derelict rail infrastructure, almost countered by the fuel discounts. Everything is just an expensive flash in the pan because there is no perspective at all.
Since 2003 there has been a fatal split in the railway tariff system: expensive public tickets paired with cheap deals. This tends to discourage regular customers rather than encourage them. Nearly two decades ago, Hartmut Mehdhorn, then president of Deutsche Bahn, created a new rail pricing system. The central component was the complete abolition of the Bahncard, which has been tried and tested since the early 1990s, and its alleged replacement with the Bahncard25, which is actually a debit card. The classic Bahncard – now referred to as the Bahncard50 – was reintroduced almost a year later as a result of mass protests, but with a steep price increase from €140 to €200 in the second class. Today, this Bahncard 50 already costs 234 euros. In this way, the number of people with Bahncard50 has been halved from 3 million to less than 1.4 million today. Since 2003, regular ticket prices (today referred to as “flexible fares”) have gone up 38 percent on long-distance transportation and even 59 percent on local transportation — about twice as fast as inflation. These higher train prices are generally associated with relatively cheap single tickets, but always with a particular train. People who have a Bahncard50 or even a Bahncard100 get ridiculous on a regular basis when they come across these cheap offers. And those, in mind, belong to the regular customers of the railways.
The €9 ticket now also follows this twisted logic. This was only for a quarter of a year. After that comes a return to the old paradoxical system. There are even rumors that by the end of 2022 public transport prices will rise significantly – also to make up for the losses from the 9 euro ticket period.
A 9-euro ticket for the public sector is expected to cost a good 3 billion euros. However, the federal government only pays $2.5 billion to states, so they somehow have to make up for the half-billion-plus deficit. At the same time and in the same period there is a “tank discount”. It will cost the federal government three billion euros. It is not yet clear whether it will remain a gift to mineral oil companies that have rapidly raised fuel prices, or whether the discount will reach at least partly to motorists.
However, the following division of labor in traffic light government is emerging: Greens can tell their customers that they are going to attack local public transportation. The FDP can inform its clients that free car travel is still valid for free (climate liability) citizens. The SPD points out to its supporters that the increase in passenger allowance was introduced in February and that higher fuel prices were partially neutralized as a result. Even in the short period when the ticket is valid €9, there is likely to be no diversion from car traffic to rail. It is said that there are travelers who wish to switch from one train to another at the time of ticket 9€ to avoid the expected crowded trains. This means that there will be absolutely no contribution to mitigating the climate emergency.
At the beginning of September, the €9 ticket will disappear again. Railroad officer Theurer seemed to have already assessed the discount period. At a press conference at the start of the campaign, he declared that expanding railways and a greater range of public transportation would make no sense. Instead, it would be “environmentally correct to see better use of existing trains without increasing personnel costs”.
This is exactly what is lacking: the scope of public transport and railway services is insufficient. The rail network has been cut by a fifth since 1994 alone. The service is bad to bad. The punctuality rate is at a record low of about 70 percent. Every week, about 2,000 trains are completely canceled, also due to the loss of thousands of train drivers and train operators. The tariff system is systematically incorrect, opaque and patchwork quilts. Headline “Wirtschaftswoche” on May 30: “Deutsche Bahn in crisis of the century – Bahn Lutz chief sends SOS« Stop the traffic light, stop the climate war!
Nothing like that! The government lacks any long-term perspective. This can consist of the following: Presentation of an annual ticket of €365 for local transport in the respective federal state – ie for €1 per day. And a climate ticket at the price of five euros per day, that is, for 1,825 euros per year for the entire German railway, the local transport network and all the country’s public local transport systems – the cost of Bahnkard 100, which roughly meets these criteria, is the second. 4144 euro denomination.
In Austria, people are already getting ahead: a €365 ticket has been available in Vienna a decade ago. A national climate ticket has been in the neighboring country since October 2021. It costs 1095 euros a year there, that is, in a much smaller country, three euros a day.
These two tickets must be prepared for the long term. For this there must be an investment offensive in public transportation, especially railways. No one who spends €100 billion on development can seriously claim that there is a shortage of funds to divert traffic and combat the climate crisis. To the extent that the scope of public transportation is improved and made possible with these cheap commuting cards, motoring costs must rise. In addition, public spaces for cars should be confined and expanded for pedestrians and cyclists, playgrounds, cafes and culture. Speed limits cost nothing and suddenly lead to a significant reduction in fossil fuel consumption and road fatalities.
This is how traffic transformation and climate policy would work – if you wanted to.
Winfried Wolf is co-founder of the new climate rail initiative www.klimabahn-initiative.de