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Germany: Pay for tickets or drive for free – which local transport model will the future belong to?


It sounds as simple as it is logical: public transport is becoming free and people are leaving their cars in abundance in the morning, getting on the bus without a ticket and becoming enthusiastic users of local transport. CO2 emissions are falling, there is more space for bicycles on the streets and everyone is happy, in fact in Germany the adoption of the model that will introduce Luxembourg on March 1st would be pretty much the opposite. Studies worldwide show that free public transport only motivates very few drivers to change trains – after all, they have a comfortable, reliable and relatively affordable means of transport at their doorstep. Free public transport in Tallinn, Estonia, for example, provided 14 percent more passengers, but the proportion of drivers among them was marginal, and even if more drivers switched in Germany, they would probably get out of free public transport again in frustration. Because either, as in many rural regions, the bus only comes once an hour. Or, as in many large cities, public transport is already working at the capacity limit. But even if the train arrives every five minutes in the morning, as in my case in Hamburg, I can't get on: the trains are just too full, on some days there is only enough space in the fourth. This is also confirmed by the numbers of the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV): the number of public transport journeys per inhabitant rose from 129 in 2008 to 138 in 2017. The space problem is also due to the four billion euros in the renovation backlog, which local transport, according to the VDV pushes itself. A free offer would require a further ten billion euros for modernization and expansion of public transport, which the state would have to invest first. So far, the public sector has "only" financed public transport with 9.4 billion euros, while paying passengers have contributed 12.8 billion euros a year. The state would then also have to take over this amount, but it would hardly provide the necessary 36 billion euros. Local transport, which is already reaching its limits, would therefore only become unattractive as a free option, whereby local transport – and thus the turnaround – primarily requires money, and as much as possible. In order to be able to compete with the car, the bus and train must have a similar feeling of freedom and planning security as the car. This is only possible with higher cycles and simple transfer connections. It is only logical that the users who can afford it make a contribution by purchasing a ticket, but that does not mean that the burden should not be distributed differently – to the group that bears the social costs of their actions generously passed on to the general public: motorists. Every kilometer of car causes 10.8 cents in external costs, which we all pay. Motorists should at least partially pay these costs in the form of a city toll and thus finance better public transport, together with the ticket buyers.

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