Germans snap up inflation-busting public transit tickets

A regional train approaches the city of Wehrheim near Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, June 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

BERLIN (AP) — Travelers in Germany will be able to crisscross the country for under $10 a month this summer as part of a government program intended to help combat rampant inflation, high fuel prices and climate change.

The hitch: the new “9-euro-tickets” that went on sale Wednesday only apply to local and public transportation, so getting from the Baltic Sea to the Black Forest will take a while.

While travelers can expect to arrive eventually, many will have to put up with delays and crowds as bus and train operators struggle with the influx of new passengers.

Still, Germans have already snapped up more than 7 million of the tickets, the association representing Germany’s byzantine patchwork of regional transportation companies, VDV, said this week.

It expects up to 30 million monthly users from June to August in the country of 83 million. The first big test is expected this weekend, when much of the country enjoys a long Pentecost weekend.

Mobility expert Katja Diehl said the tickets would particularly benefit people on low incomes and families that want to travel across Germany on the cheap. She expressed doubt the summer program would have much impact on the way commuters behave, though packed trains could boost arguments for more public transportation funding by highlighting demand.

“We need a massive expansion of what’s on offer,” Diehl said.

“Germany wants to double the number of passengers on public transport,” she said. “That’s only possible with reliable alternatives (to cars) and good pricing that doesn’t end after three months.”

Some of Germany’s neighbors have taken a more comprehensive, longer-term approach to encourging people to use public transport.

Austria launched a ’ climate ticket ’ drive last year that covers all forms of transport. It costs 1,095 euros ($1,175) annually, but there are discounts for families and ,ow-income earners.

Tiny Luxembourg, meanwhile, made all public transport free in 2020.

German environmentalists have criticized the government for introducing the cut-rate tickets simultaneously with lowering the tax on fuel, arguing the subsidy would aid oil companies while undermining efforts to get people to switch to climate-friendly forms of transport.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed those concerns. Speaking a day before both measures took effect, Scholz said he was convinced they would be a “really, really big success.”