Germany tests measures against rising energy prices: monthly train and public transport tickets at 9 euros

Travel on public transport in the city and on regional trains for nine euros a month. That idea is the one that the German Government puts to the test as of next Wednesday. The German Chancellor, the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, gave the green light to this measure in April, integrated into the latest package of wide-ranging public initiatives launched to tackle inflation, in particular the rise in energy prices due to the russian war against Ukraine.

Among these measures, agreed between the social democrats, environmentalists and liberals that form the traffic light “coalition” led by Scholz, there are also tax cuts and a notable injection of public spending on economic aid. Implementing said monthly ticket at nine euros is possible thanks to the spending of the German State, which will use no less than 2,500 million euros to compensate for the fact that public transport companies stop charging the usual rates.

The nine euro monthly ticket is only valid for the months of this summer (June, July and August). The Scholz administration has presented it as a “great opportunity” for the promotion of public transport, in the terms of the Liberal Transport Minister, Volker Wissing. The ticket in question does not include the ICE trains, which are the high-speed ones here, nor the Intercity trains. These lines are the ones that allow travelers to reach their destination the fastest.

“We have to see [en el billete a nueve euros] a great opportunity”, Wissing recently declared on Deutschland Funk public radio. Daniela Gerd, one of the heads of Deutsche Bahn (DB), the great German railway company, conveyed the same idea in the economic pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. “I see the nine euro bill as an opportunity. It is a unique opportunity to gain new clients”, Gerd stated in an interview with the newspaper of the German economic capital.

In the recent history of Germany, such an initiative is only remembered when looking back. Specifically, to 1995, when it was tested with the so-called "good weekend ticket". This ticket allowed traveling through Germany with the freedom that the nine-euro ticket facilitates, but only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It cost, in marks, the equivalent of about 7.5 euros.

The initiative is not that it went well. There were so many people using the "weekend ticket" that, as Dyrk Scherff recalled in the Sunday pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntag, the initiative died of success. The demand for public transport exceeded the supply of companies, which had difficult days due to not being able to absorb so many travellers.

At that time there were numerous complaints about the service provided by the rail transport companies, which gave an image of having been overwhelmed. In any case, that ticket was not the definitive boost for public transport in a country that is still considered a nation of cars. Not in vain, are German companies like Volkswagen, Daimler – responsible for brands like Mercedes or Smart – and BMW.

To some extent, it is strange to see a liberal-conservative like Wissing making the public transport bet. His boss in the German liberal party, the FDP, is Christian Lindner, Minister of Finance. Lindner is famous, among other things, for driving a luxury car of the Porsche brand. The FDP is, on the other hand, one of the German parties that continue to defend the absence of speed limits on German motorways.

As he reminds ElDiario.es Hubertus Bardt, head of the Institute for the German Economy (IW), a center for economic studies based in Cologne, Wissing's initiative could have served to improve the state of German rail traffic. The last big wave of public investment in the rail sector in Germany dates back decades. For this reason, he believes that "more new trains could have been bought or invested in improving the tracks."

An offer as good as nine-euro tickets for users, without an ostensible reinforcement of infrastructure and railway companies, is something that many have seen as problematic. “For years we discussed the fact that we want to do more for public transport. Now the federal government uses billions. Where is the problem?” Wissing, the German transport minister, defended himself.

Wissing has run into quite a bit of resistance to the nine-euro note, of which huge amounts have been sold by now, even though its use is only possible from June 1. In just over a day, earlier this week, according to Bild, the country's most widely read newspaper, there were no less than a million sales. Apparently, up to 200,000 tickets were sold in half a day on Monday.

Now, the circumstance arises, according to what the economic daily Handelsblatt stated this week that "the railway network is about to collapse" in Germany. This is how they explained it in this publication, where they gave an account of how passengers and industry currently suffer from a state of railway infrastructure that could improve.

Despite the fact that in 2021 up to 15,400 million euros were invested in the sector, punctuality in the sector is going down. In January, 80.9% of the trains were punctual. Currently, the percentage is 69.1%, according to Handelsblatt accounts, which roughly means that one in three German trains is not punctual.

There are those who predict that the nine-euro ticket could make the service worse. Those responsible for the DB, such as Gerd, have already warned that there will be especially tourist sections with more influx than normal. His company has prepared for the demand for the nine-euro ticket by making another 50 trains available, in addition to the 700 that are in activity.

The increase in work this summer at the DB is part of the expected. For Gerd, and for Wissing, what is desirable is for the nine-euro bill to be a success, not for the initiative to end up dying because of the massive support it can generate.

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