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  • Red flag: Why not make public transport free?

Red flag

Red flag: Why not make public transport free?

Germany's "9 for 90" scheme means public transport will cost 9 euros a month. It would be easier to make it free.

Fahrkartenentwerter auf dem U-Bahnhof Schönhauser Allee in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg Fahrkartenentwerter *** Ticket validating machine on the U station Schönhauser Allee in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg ticket validating machine

Last week, Germany’s “traffic light” coalition announced new measures against rising energy costs. They intend to lower the gas and diesel tax for three months, and send 300 euros in “energy money” to every taxpayer (about 180 euros after taxes). The most innovative idea was “9 for 90”: for three months, public transport will only cost 9 euros a month. It’s really more like “27 for 90,” but whatever.

How is this supposed to work? When will the 9 euro tickets go on sale? What about people with monthly or annual tickets? No one knows. The program might start in May, or perhaps in June. The federal government will need to send money to all the country’s public transport companies — a total of some 2.5 billion euros.

Across Germany, tickets for public transport bring in about 13 billion euros a year. Free transport for one quarter would thus cost 3.25 billion.

These 9 euro tickets are surprisingly expensive — getting rid of tickets entirely would save a lot of money. It costs money to print and sell tickets, and it costs money to check them. Recent months have seen numerous stories of violence by Kontrolleure — and we are all paying for those insults and injuries.

The biggest cost, however, is imprisonment. Around a third of people in Berlin’s Plötzensee prison are there for Schwarzfahren. That adds up to millions of euros per year to torture poor people, just to enforce the ticket system.

Public transport is part of urban life. We don’t need a ticket to walk down the sidewalk or sit down in a park. Why should the tram or the train cost money? Berlin’s taxpayers are already paying hundreds of millions of euros a year to keep the BVG and the S-Bahn running — tickets are already kind of symbolic.

The realty speculators gobbling up more and more of Berlin’s housing pay virtually no taxes — they book their profits in tax havens. Just getting these billionaire companies to pay taxes at the same rate as you or I would cover the cost of public transport many times over.

Under our state religion of neoliberalism, only certain public goods are supposed to be free. The city is paying around half a billion euros to expand the inner-city Autobahn by a few kilometers through Neukölln. Just yesterday, the federal government announced that the A100 freeway will be extended a few more kilometers into Prenzlauer Berg — another half billion euros to throw people out of their houses. This is a public subsidy of a billion euros to car owners. But making public transport free would be “too expensive.”

Like with gas and diesel subsidies, the poor are being forced to subsidize the lifestyles of rich people. 

Faced with rising gas prices and a worsening climate catastrophe (23 forest fires in Brandenburg this spring?!?), we need drastic action. Gifting billions of dollars to a scammer like Elon Musk won’t help. Solutions are relatively simple and cheap: Introducing a speed limit (which would save tons of gas). Adding bike lanes. Ending the dictatorship of the automobile industry. And above all, making public transport that is free and reliable.

9 euros for a month of public transport is a good start — but it only shows how ridiculous it is to have tickets in the first place.

Nathaniel Flakin’s new anticapitalist guide book Revolutionary Berlin is available now from Pluto Press. 304 pages, €18.99 / £14.99.