German train travel surges thanks to €9 rail pass 

Short distance train travel in Germany has surged over the past few months – partly thanks to the country’s ultra-cheap summer rail pass.

The number of passengers travelling short distances by rail “markedly increased” over the second quarter of 2022, Germany’s federal statistical office Destatis has revealed.

Compared to the first quarter of the year (January to March), short distance rail transport is up 46 per cent.

“The increases are probably due to the easing of COVID-19 related restrictions and the 9-euro ticket available since June,” a Destatis statement estimates.

But how much has the ticket reduced car traffic?

What is the €9 German ticket and has it worked?

In May, Deutsche Bahn – Germany’s rail authority – introduced a heavily subsidised pass to help people deal with rising inflation and encourage sustainable travel.

The €9 a month ticket offers passengers unlimited use of local and regional trains between June and August.

The heavily subsidised pass has been hugely popular. Around 21 million €9 tickets were sold in June alone, Association of German Transport Companies (VDV) figures show. That’s on top of the roughly 10 million subscribers who automatically received the discounted ticket.

According to weekly surveys of 6,000 public transport users by Deutsche Bahn and the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), one in five people have been encouraged to switch to public transport for the first time.

But other surveys suggest that road transport has not dropped significantly.

A study by the Technical University of Munich showed that while 35 per cent of the 1,000 study participants took the bus and train more often, just three per cent used their own vehicle less often.

Nonetheless, study leader Klaus Bogenberger said that this could increase over time.

​​“A radical change in every day behaviour due to a new offer was not to be expected. This makes the percentage of people trying alternative modes of transport to their own car all the more important,” he said.

“The important result is that many have integrated public transport into their everyday lives.”

Rail transport has been increasing over the past year, too. 

Year on year, the number of passengers taking short-term transit has increased by three-quarters. These passengers travelled more than twice as many kilometres during the second quarter of 2022 as they did over the same period last year.

How much have the rail passes cost the German government?

The experiment has cost roughly €2.5bn in state subsidies, and the German government has so far ruled out extending it further. But other suggestions being debated include a yearly €365 ticket or a phone-plan style offer where passengers buy a monthly kilometre budget.

Other countries have also offered subsidised train travel. In Spain, the government has announced that all commuter trains (Cercanías and Rodalies) and mid-distance regional lines covering journeys of less than 300km (Media Distancia routes) run by the national rail operator Renfe will be free from 1 September to 31 December

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