Today is the first day without the €9 ticket.
Germany’s three-month experiment with a flat rate for all public transport was a huge success. Over 52 million tickets were sold — in addition to ten million people who got discounts on annual passes.
A recent study showed that 10% of trips with the €9 ticket replaced a car trip. In this way, the measure saved 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The €9 ticket was great for people (especially poor people) and great for the environment.
Everyone knows that tickets are expensive and stressful — if you make them cheap and simple, then of course more people are going to ride. This was shown in a report by Center for Figuring Out Really Obvious Things — just kidding, it was actually by the Association of German Transport Companies.
The managers that drove Deutsche Bahn into the ground all came from industries that are directly opposed to public transport.
The only people who were surprised, apparently: the managers of public transport companies. Henrik Falk, the boss of Hamburg’s Hochbahn, told DER SPIEGEL that he had always thought that price didn’t play a role in people’s decision to use public transport. “But it does,” he let himself be quoted as saying, “That is what I learned from these three months.”
This is what happens when millionaires are in charge of the transport system. Hamburg’s system is more expensive than anywhere, with a monthly ticket for €114.30. But the guy in charge has no way to know what a banana costs, or that many people can’t afford €114.30. This reminds me of the boss of Berlin’s BVG, who was getting half a million euros a year in addition to two (!) company cars with drivers, all paid for by BVG customers.
The politicians are no better. Robert Habeck says that we all need to sacrifice in the face of high energy costs. Do you think he’ll abandon his heavy black Mercedes for the S-Bahn anytime soon?
The main person blocking a continuation of the €9 was finance minister Christian Lindner. He kept saying there was no money for this “free mentality.” He still manages to find almost unlimited billions for subsidies for the automobile industry: tax write-offs for corporate cars, free Autobahns, free parking places, etc. In the face of massive public pressure, it sounds like Lindner might be caving. We’ll see if we get a halfway decent replacement — it will certainly be more than €9.
We need more vehicles, more routes, and more workers (with better conditions!)
But we need something much better than €9. The ticket had all kinds of problems. On popular routes, trains were packed beyond capacity. This is the result of two decades of neoliberal reforms that devastated Germany’s rail systems. Fun fact: the managers that drove Deutsche Bahn into the ground all came from industries that are directly opposed to public transport. Helmut Mehdorn was from Lufthansa, and then Rüdiger Grube was from Daimler-Benz. It might have seemed like they were simply incompetent and corrupt — but they might have been actively sabotaging the competition to planes and cars. These so-called reforms were also terrible for the people keeping the system running.
These cuts meant that about 7,000 kilometers of rail were abandoned, leaving large swaths of the country without public transport of any kind. The €9 ticket never caught on in rural areas — it’s not much use if there is no train station and a bus only passes by once a day.
The main thing we need going forward is massive new investments in trains, trams, subways, and busses. We need more vehicles, more routes, and more workers (with better conditions!) Fortunately, Germany’s wealthy have more money than they know what to do with. Having our oligarchs pay the same tax rate as you or I would be enough to finance free transport for everyone. Even more money could be gotten by cutting subsidies to the car industry.
We need a €0 ticket. This would be incredibly efficient: we could get rid of tickets entirely, and thus get rid of ticket checkers (and all the violence they cause to riders). We could get rid of the prisons that incarcerate people for the “crime” of being poor and riding without a ticket (prisons aren’t cheap!). All those resources could be used to making the trains work better. The S-Bahn is a basic need for everyone, just like a sidewalk or a park, and shouldn’t require a ticket.
There are more obvious improvements to make. All summer, people were forced to cram into overfilled trains, while an entire wagon would be kept empty. We need to get rid of first class, an absurd relic of when trains where run by aristocrats.
We are facing multiple emergencies: an energy crisis is coming on top of a climate crisis. We can’t leave life-or-death decisions about transport in the hands of millionaire politicians and their heirs of Nazi billionaires. We need to put transport under the democratic control of workers and riders. Let’s vote on how to run the BVG — I’m confident that not a single working-class person would vote for the expensive chaos we have today.