Notes on the Deutschland ticket

I recently got round to subscribing to the Deutschland-ticket in Germany, and it got me thinking a lot about mobility in the wider sense. I’ve dashed out some thoughts now to come back to later.

In Germany, where I know live, one of persistent areas where the country is underperforming on climate targets is on carbon emissions from transport. I think there are a number of reasons for this, but the big one is that Germany’s economy has historically been based around making and selling big expensive cars with internal combustion engines, which are exported all around the world.

Historically the leaders of the carmakers have tried their best to maintain this status quo, because well… the car industry makes a lot of money! In the early 2020’s it made between 400 and 600bn EUR each year, with around 150-200 bn EUR coming from exports.

Anyway, when the pandemic hit, there was correspondingly very generous support for drivers to subsidise fuel so Germans could keep driving. However, as a response to what was seen as a subsidy to wealthy car owners, the German government also introduced what became known as the 9 Euro-ticket, offering free transport across Germany, for 9 Euros per month. While not every train was valid – fast intercity trains were exempt – broadly speaking it was very popular among people who didn’t own cars.

There’s a really fascinating and somewhat moving paper about the impact having suddenly free or low cost access to transport had for lower income groups – Imagine the financial barrier to public transport use disappears. The impact of the 9-Euro-Ticket on the mobility and social participation of low-income households with children.

A few of the final findings really leapt out at me:

  1. The 9 Euro price point is really important for a set of low income groups. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but even with the Deustchland ticket available widely at 49 EUR per month as it has been since last May, there are still people who are denied access to the public transport system. So, the price made a massive difference.
  2. The simplicity is the key – once you pay, you didn’t have to worry about whether you had to chooce between travel and food, or any other trade-offs. This was huge psychological relief.
  3. The 9-Euro-Ticket was a transport policy measure, but it had implications in areas of social policy. This needs to be recognised to fully understand the value of the scheme. When viewed solely through the lens of whether this reduced carbon emissions, we miss a lot of the value – like , enabling groups with immigrant backgrounds to access language lessons, or allowing children access to services that their parents couldn’t afford the travel fees for.
  4. The increased use highlighted the need for more investment in public transport over the recent years, as usage increased, stretching existing capacity. While the paper doesn’t go into the numbers, spending on German roadways and support for private motoring has consistently outstripped investment in public transport in Germany.

The paper refers to research conducted in Hannover, a medium size german city. Other parts of Germany might not have the density to support the kind of transit that the 9 euro ticket relies on.

Anyway, you don’t need to be in a low income group to think the Deutschland ticket is a good thing.

It’s juust about cheap enough for me to pay for it, even though I travel around a bunch by bike, simply because the freedom to use public transport when I DO is so attractive, and to not really think about the incremental cost when considering transport options when getting somewhere is really freeing. It’s probably 20-30 EUR more than I might spend on public transport each month anyway, so it’s not a massive investment.

If you’re in Germany, and you’re considering it, I’d absolutely recommend buying the Deutschland ticket via mo.pla – it’s the simplest way to sign up, and it’s a monthly payment that way, which is very easy to pause.

Hope this helps someone curious about transit in Germany.