The Deutschlandticket is six months old – and from the perspective of its supporters, it has revolutionized public transport. But not everyone is happy – and the dispute over money jeopardizes the offer.
Whether tariff zones, tariff honeycombs or tariff areas – millions of passengers have been unable to care about the confusing structure of local public transport for six months. Since the beginning of May, the Deutschlandticket has given them the opportunity to get on a bus or regional train for a flat rate and travel as far as they want. Without worrying about whether your ticket is the right one. The subscription still costs 49 euros per month. Although everyone is happy that the ticket has greatly simplified public transport, its future is uncertain.
Demand has reached a plateau
“The Deutschland Ticket is a success,” says Alexander Möller, public transport managing director at the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV). “Customers get a public transport flat rate that is cheaper than ever before. We have customer numbers like before Corona and are retaining customers like never before.” According to the association, there are now around ten million 49-euro subscriptions. “The number is quite stable, even if more are being added at a low level.”
Around half of the holders come from existing subscriptions and are therefore not new long-term public transport customers. The other half have so far traveled with single tickets or season tickets. The association considers this a success. “We are binding customers more closely to public transport through this flat rate,” emphasizes Möller.
From the VDV’s point of view, there actually needs to be a debate about how the ticket should be further developed. There is still no regulation for universities and students. The association also demands that family members, friends or pets be allowed to take along.
Germany ticket before the end? The argument about money
Instead of discussing such proposals, politicians are once again arguing about money. The conflict is deadlocked. Essentially, it’s about the question of who will bear any additional costs for the Germany ticket. For 2023, it is regulated that the federal and state governments will share half of the additional costs – from 2024 this will be open. The states want the federal government to continue to invest half in them in the future. Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing rejected this. He recently made it clear in the Bundestag that there were no precise calculations of the additional costs for the time being. The VDV, in turn, assumes that the losses for the industry this year will be 2.3 billion euros due to the ticket launch only in May and 4.1 billion euros for the whole of 2024. With a total of six billion euros in public subsidies for 2023 and 2024, the bottom line is a financing gap of 400 million euros.
A solution will now be sought during consultations between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the heads of government of the federal states on November 6th. What this might look like is unclear. The federal and state governments could make a commitment not to let the Deutschlandticket fail because of the issue of additional costs. It would be possible to increase the price to 59 euros per month – but that would be an unpopular decision. An end to the Germany ticket is considered unlikely. The damage to the image of the federal and state governments would be too great.
What the ticket brought
“If we now talk about continued existence every year because there is a dispute between the federal and state governments about co-financing, we are scaring off customers,” emphasizes VDV managing director Möller. One of the federal government’s stated goals was to convince as many people as possible to use regional and local transport with cheap public transport tickets. You should use your car less often or not at all.
There are different opinions about whether this worked. One of the few numbers-based statements on this comes again from the VDV. “Eight to ten percent of D-Ticket users are real public transport beginners, meaning they have previously driven a car, for example,” the association found in surveys. “Already today, five percent of all trips with the Deutschlandticket would otherwise have been made by car.”
A failure from an environmental perspective?
From the perspective of traffic researcher Christian Böttger from the Berlin University of Technology and Economics, the ticket is still a failure from an environmental perspective. “The ministry has announced the D-Ticket with emissions reductions of three to four million tonnes at various points,” he says. If we assume that 80 percent of all public transport journeys are made with the Deutschlandticket, this would result in savings of 0.4 million tonnes.
Based on cell phone data and surveys, an institution at the Technical University of Munich also found only a small shift effect from road to rail in the first month after the introduction.
The Berlin researcher Böttger generally considers the ticket to be unreasonable. “There is no reason to subsidize the middle class in the suburbs. You lose control options. The distribution of revenue becomes more complicated.” The simplification of buying tickets in different cities is good, but can also be continued in other ways.
Price isn’t everything
Experts repeatedly emphasize that price cannot be the only factor in convincing people to switch to public transport. Above all, more and better infrastructure is needed in order to be able to meet the increasing demand. Anyone who used the Deutschlandticket to travel to holiday regions in the summer often found themselves stuck on overcrowded trains – or could not start the journey because there was no more room for their bicycle. From the perspective of the pro-rail alliance Allianz, a larger public transport offering is needed, especially in rural areas, so that the ticket can even be used there.
But the industry agrees that the offer must continue. “We stand by it: The Deutschlandticket is a revolution for local transport,” said Allianz pro-Schiene managing director Dirk Flege at the time. Whether things continue depends primarily on whether the federal and state governments come to an agreement.