The first figures from Germany showed that low public transport fares were actually efficient in reducing road traffic. But is it really worth it?
When Germany announced a plant to temporarily reduce public transport fares, reactions were mixed. It was a bold plan: for just €9 (the equivalent of €1), Germans would be able to travel on regional rail, buses and subways for a full month. Basically, you get a month’s worth of travel for less than ten bucks. The motivation was twofold – on the one hand, the German government designed it as a way to reduce emissions, pollution and congestion; Germany, on the other hand, is under hard pressure to reduce its imports of Russian oil and gas, and as a way to save fuel by making people more efficient and using public transport instead of their cars.
But it came with a sizable price tag: the German government would have to shell out 2.5 billion euros for a plan to reimburse transit companies for lost revenue. Some critics have said it is too expensive, while others have said it will put too much pressure on existing infrastructure.
Now, an analysis by TomTom, a traffic data specialist for the German press agency, found a reduction in congestion in 23 of the 26 cities examined.
First, there was no detectable change in the overcrowding statistics—presumably, as the population became used to the idea. But as the weeks passed, the change became apparent. TomTom traffic specialist Ralph-Peter Schaefer said, “The data suggests this decline is related to the introduction of the nine-euro ticket.”
“In the first few days after the introduction of the nine-euro ticket, data from TomTom showed hardly any effect of the measure on car traffic. Schaefer said. “The reduction in time loss varies from city to city,” said the expert. The analysis was done for the week of 20 June.
In some cities, such as Hamburg or Wiesbaden, average congestion has dropped by about 14% – meaning that for every 30 hours of drive, drivers saved more than 4 minutes. During rush hours, the difference will often be even more significant.
Other factors may play a role in the reduction in congestion (such as higher fuel prices), but the data shows that the congestion in June 2019 is also less compared to the same week. Train usage has also increased by 40%.
“If I were the government, I would think really hard now,” Schaefer also said.
Looks like the government is really thinking about this. When he took office in late 2021, Transport Minister Volker Wissing apparently positioned himself as the drivers’ advocate. Now, they have declared the $9 ticket a “huge success” debut and are reportedly looking at a possible successor to the ticket. “We have very little traffic on the roads, very few traffic jams.”
But Germany’s finance minister says that although most people support the idea of cheap train fares subsidized by the government, the $9 ticket will have no extension. In the meantime, Wissing says he is waiting for a full analysis on the effects, rather than just preliminary results.
However, preliminary results are already intriguing. Price discounts were huge in some cities – for example, in Berlin or Munich, the discount was more than 90%. In Berlin, fare theft was reduced by 90% when a $9 ticket was introduced, indicating that fare theft is due to higher fares. Also, it is not the case that some people are using public transport to commute to and from work. In many German cities, several additional trips were made on weekends, indicating that people took a train or bus to go to the mountains and forests, or simply to go somewhere far away from the city. In other words, cheaper public transport is helping some people improve their quality of life, something they would not be able to afford otherwise.
Maybe it’s the cherry on top of the cheap public transportation cake. Sure, it comes at a price—it’s a huge subsidy—but it’s making cities more affordable and manageable, especially for those who need it most. For that alone, it’s probably worth it.