“9 For 90”: Germany’s Biggest Public Transport Experiment
It is well known that in the past couple of months Europe has been trying to sort out numerous issues. Inflation, rising energy costs, war, climate policies and unemployment are words that have become familiar to anyone following the news, or, even to anyone going grocery shopping and receiving their electricity bill. And as many of these challenges do not appear to be resolved in the near time, governments and policymakers are faced with a dilemma of how to tackle them and alleviate their impact.
In response, many European governments have released various sorts of financial aid programs and packages. However, a particularly unexpected approach was undertaken by the German government - the 9 Euro ticket, labelled by some as “9 for 90” in the country. In the summer of 2022, the German government announced its citizens will be able to travel to any destination within the country, any time, for a whole month, from June 1 to August 31st, simply by purchasing one 9 Euro public transport ticket. The program and the ticket had very few limitations, such as non validity for high speed long distance ICE trains. Although Germany is not the first European country to experiment with ultra cheap public transport, the 9 Euro tickets scale and lengthy period of implementation definitely single it out.
While at first glance it may not be intuitive to realise how an extremely cheap monthly ticket could help the country resolve any of its economic issues, the initiative had a clear purpose. In fact, it can be considered a relief package itself. The ticket was introduced in hopes of easing the impact of inflation and particularly rising energy costs in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, it was jointly targeted towards making transportation in the country more sustainable while offsetting carbon emissions. This was particularly applicable in the summer months, as holiday-takers expectedly used their cars more to travel long distances. The project was financed by the German federal government, with a relatively large cost of 2.5 billions Euros.
Naturally, the burning question is whether the initiative actually achieved what it was intended for. Although official studies of the impacts of the 9 Euro ticket on the German economy, transportation sectors and the environment are yet to be released, some independent studies and figures can already paint a somewhat clear picture.
For instance, according to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), an estimated 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions were saved throughout the summer period. But what seemingly appears to be a large success in terms of green initiatives, may actually be rather too far fetched. From those who purchased the ticket, only about a tenth of passengers made an alternative from using their car; the rest would have travelled with public transport either way. Anyhow, air pollution levels did decrease up to 7% in the country, particularly in urban areas, while car congestion was lowered by over 3% in major cities like Munich.
While such climate figures appear to be rather on the smaller side, can they still be considered promising? The answer is uncertain. Despite a clear conclusion that the 9 Euro ticket was beneficial for the country’s climate target, its benefits may not be justified by large costs to the federal government. Most importantly, it does not seem that it triggered a long lasting change in citizens' habits. The already small percentage of people using public transport instead of their cars will eventually go back to daily car usage once the ticket expires. A three month initiative is simply not long enough to establish long lasting changes.
The financial relief impacts of the program, on the other hand, appear to be much more promising. Considering that the initiative also included a reduction on gas and diesel tax, money was partly allocated to regional transit companies to make up for lost revenue. In the midst of soaring inflation and rising energy costs, the ticket gave citizens an opportunity to travel that some may not have otherwise had. Around a quarter of trips would not have been actually made otherwise, especially by people with low salaries, or those relying heavily on state welfare and pensions. Without it, national day passes that are only valid for the Deutsche Bahn, with many restrictions, start at 42 Euros, a price some cannot afford. Despite Germany’s relatively low poverty rate compared to the other parts of Europe, the enormous pressure of rising living costs has emphasised the initiative’s ability to ease financial burdens while opening up previously inaccessible opportunities for leisure.
A significant goal the project did not fully target was inflation. Throughout the summer months, inflation in Germany and Europe as a whole, continued rising. While some studies, such as that conducted by the German Economic Institute, estimate that inflation would have been 2% higher had the initiative not been undertaken, this impact was significantly lower than anticipated.
Now that the 9 Euro ticket is gone and unlikely to return to the country in the near time, the German government is contemplating undertaking other measures to make public transport cheaper and more accessible. Currently, it is in the process of drafting proposals that will significantly lower prices of regional tickets, but is already facing obstacles associated with them. Rising energy costs will require even higher payouts for the federal government, which is already exacerbated by financial downfalls from the Covid-19 recovery and an ongoing war. Other European countries are seeing themselves in a similar situation, so reductions in public transport fares will likely be undertaken in other parts of Europe. One crucial takeaway, however, for the continent is that it is in need of long lasting measures that will guarantee long term positive impacts. This way, these can improve not only the distressing state of the economy, but also impact the social welfare of countries.