Dhe citizens will be able to use all local public transport for 49 euros a month in the coming year – possibly as early as January, at least as soon as possible. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) agreed on this with the Prime Minister on Wednesday. After the success of the 9-euro ticket in the summer, there will now be a successor model called “Deutschlandticket” after a tough struggle over the financing of public transport.
The decision itself, which Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) described as the “biggest public transport reform” in Germany and which was “unique” in the whole of Europe, was not controversial on Wednesday. The long-awaited prime ministers’ conference was instead about the fundamental question of how the federal and state governments should redistribute the costs for buses and trains.
In the dispute over the financing of local public transport, the federal government has made even more concessions to the federal states, but has not quite met their demands for an additional 3.165 billion euros for 2022 and 2023. The agreement that has now been reached provides that the federal government should on the one hand pay the already promised 1st .5 billion euros for the ticket. The countries pay an equal amount. In addition, the federal government increases the regionalization funds by one billion euros every year, this year in addition to the more than 10 billion euros that have already been paid. Also starting this year, the federal government will increase the subsidies by 3 percent and not, as previously agreed, by just 1.8 percent, in order to compensate for rising energy costs.
Wissing: “Strong overall package”
Wissing emphasized that a “strong overall package” was put together that answered all open questions. It is now ensured that the countries can increase the frequency and make additional offers. The transport minister is also banking on the attractiveness of the ticket itself, which significantly reduces the cost of a monthly subscription in many regions of Germany: “We hope that the ticket will be such a great success that we will once again be able to strengthen public transport financially through the ticket income .”
The Chair of the Conference of Transport Ministers, Bremen Senator Maike Schaefer, on the other hand, made it clear that the debate on financing is far from over. “Now, at least, countries are able to maintain the status quo,” she said. However, in order to bring about a real traffic turnaround via the Deutschlandticket and local public transport, additional regionalization funds would have to be part of the mobility pact that the federal and state governments want to conclude together in 2024.
Fundamental system change
Superficially, the debate revolves around many billions of euros in additional funds that both sides will have to raise in the coming years not only to keep the costly system running, but also to be able to expand it for the steadily increasing number of passengers. In fact, the introduction of a uniform price for public transport means a system change on several levels. And that could mean that the offers will not be expanded in the future, but instead have to be restricted – almost secretly.
First, there is the situation of the countless transport companies that will have to calculate with a price cap in the future. Price increases, as is currently the case with energy and personnel costs, can no longer be offset by tariff increases in the transport associations concerned. Oliver Wolff, General Manager of the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), recently described the dilemma as follows: The companies’ earning potential is limited – in the long term. “This is the end of self-sufficiency,” he emphasized. “The entire industry is migrating to a common economy. That is a real paradigm shift.”
Ticket revenue only covers a fraction of the cost
With the introduction of the 49-euro ticket, a completely new financing structure will be introduced for the entire public transport system, Wolf warned. An additional offer of night buses or a new bus route could then no longer be financed from the company’s own resources. However, you have to know that even today the ticket income can only cover a fraction of the costs.
In fact, the entire public transport system is based on state subsidies running into the billions – especially from the federal government. Here, too, the reform will bring about a system change. So far, the federal government has mainly contributed to the costs of operation, it has not interfered in the ticket prices. In this respect, the 9-euro ticket between June and the end of August was a real novelty: the federal government alone assumed the costs of the expected ticket cancellations of around 2.5 billion euros. After all, the idea of Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) was born in a nightly meeting of the coalition committee at the end of March – without consulting the federal states and the transport associations.
Right from the start, there was a consensus that the three-month relief would have to be borne in full by the federal government. However, it was also clear to those involved that this system could not be maintained in the long term; a new concept had to be found for the successor model. The traffic light government quickly tried to lay the foundation for this. In the decision on the second relief package at the end of August, she put 1.5 billion euros on the table to finance a permanent reduction in ticket prices to 49 euros. The federal states are also contributing 1.5 billion euros.