Overcrowded trains in holiday regions, crowds on platforms as well as delays and angry customers – the Pentecost wave of travel was a first endurance test for the discount campaign with the 9-euro ticket. However, transport providers were reluctant to make an initial conclusion. Before the expected wave of return trips on Monday, Deutsche Bahn only said: “As expected, there were and are regional peaks in passenger numbers, especially to tourist destinations.” Overall, stable rail operations are recorded nationwide.
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The Pro Bahn passenger association spoke of a chaos that was foreseeable and the result of a political offer without having the necessary rail traffic capacities. After the boom in the 9-euro monthly ticket and the demand for Pentecost traffic, consumer protection groups, local authorities and transport politicians are calling for permanently low local transport prices. Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) is aiming for far-reaching improvements for more attractive local public transport.
During the Pentecost weekend, many regional trains are jam-packed, especially in holiday regions. This time, however, the 9-euro tickets were added. These are valid in June, July and August and allow for as many trips as you like on local and regional buses and trains throughout Germany for one month – much cheaper than normal monthly tickets, which are also only valid in the network area. According to Deutsche Bahn, regional trains were in particularly high demand for tourist destinations during the long Pentecost weekend – for example in the direction of the Baltic Sea and North Sea. Travelers had reported that the trains were sometimes completely overcrowded and that there had been delays. Passengers had to get off some trains. Travelers were also sometimes not able to take bicycles with them. At Deutsche Bahn it was said on Monday that it was still too early for a detailed balance sheet. The Association of German Transport Companies (VDV) will present an interim balance sheet for the sector in the middle of this week.
Federal police officers were on duty over Pentecost to support railway employees – for example when passengers had to be asked to leave overcrowded trains. How often overcrowded trains had to be stopped was initially not known from the railways. In Stendal in Saxony-Anhalt, for example, federal police officers were called to an overcrowded regional express northbound on Saturday. The train was more than 200 percent full, said a spokesman for the federal police. The train driver asked for help because travelers were not ready to leave the train, a spokesman for the federal police said.
“During peak travel times, demand on the main routes was so high that trains could not depart. And some railway companies – such as Metronom in northern Germany – have excluded bicycle transport because they could not handle the rush,” criticized Karl-Peter Naumann from the Pro Bahn passenger association. The good thing about the 9-euro ticket is that it has brought local public transport back into the conversation. Naumann expects further problems in the coming summer months. He therefore advised rail travelers not to travel at the weekend if possible, but to switch to days in the middle of the week and to reconsider the destination.
From the point of view of Transport Minister Wissing, local transport services should be more understandable, more uniform and therefore more customer-friendly in the future. He also advocated practical local transport apps and simpler fares. “We have to seize the opportunity to get more people excited about public transport,” said the FDP politician to the German Press Agency. “We want to win new passengers.” In addition, small-scale organizational structures would have to be broken up. Uniform tariffs and offers across all transport associations are also a real added value for customers. “People don’t live in tariff zones. People want to get from A to B.” SPD traffic expert Dorothee Martin also sees the current discount campaign as an opportunity.
The federal states are constantly demanding more regionalization funds from the federal government, with which they or transport associations can order local transport services from providers. However, Wissing initially urges reforms. “The analysis of the 9-euro ticket will give us clear indications of where we need to go,” he said. The Association of Towns and Municipalities spoke out in favor of offering a nationwide cheap public transport ticket with unlimited validity even after the expiry of the 9-euro ticket for local public transport, which was limited to three months. General manager Gerd Landsberg, told the “Handelsblatt”, “we don’t need a short public transport summer, but a nationwide public transport country”.
The “business wise” Grimm sees this skeptically: “With an offer for everyone, including those who are able to pay, you only reduce the financial leeway without achieving any major effects.” It would be conceivable, for example, to make an extremely cheap offer to young people. So they got used to the use of public transport systems, which would then also become more attractive with increasing expansion, said the economist, who also advises the federal government. SPD expert Martin said she was very happy about the great popularity of the 9-euro ticket. It is clear, however, “that we need more money in public transport in the long term,” she emphasized in the “Handelsblatt”.
Consumer advocates have already warned that imminent price increases after the end of the campaign must be avoided. The interim head of the Federal Association of Consumers (vzbv), Jutta Gurkmann, said, “in order to strengthen public transport and keep passengers permanently, cheap ticket prices are important”. The federal government should therefore decide on a price moratorium for buses and trains and invest in customer-friendly public transport and attractive offers.