13 Oct 2021

Interview with VDV - Association of German Transport Companies

The questions for the interview were put to the VDV by Messe Karlsruhe.

Oliver Wolff, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Member of the Executive Committee of the VDV.

According to a study by the German motoring association ADAC from the end of 2020, the effects of the pandemic have led to a sharp decline in passenger numbers in public transport. How has this developed since then from your perspective?

Passenger numbers in public transport have fallen and risen again with the various waves of infection. This data shows very clearly how restrictive the lockdown measures and travel restrictions were at different points in time. Passenger numbers are currently at around 75% of their pre-pandemic level. But people still have fewer reasons to travel, such as major events, trade fairs or city breaks.

Which services and solutions do you think are well suited to responding to altered passenger behaviour or counteracting the developments we have seen?

We have yet to see whether and to what extent this change in mobility behaviour will persist after the pandemic. Our recent nationwide pass scheme, in which anyone with a valid annual public transport pass could use the entire public transport network throughout Germany for two weeks at no extra cost, showed that passengers still want to use buses and trains intensively. Over 700,000 customers took advantage of this offer. To us, this is a clear sign that people still need and use a good public transport network. Despite this, we know that we have to offer more flexible ticketing schemes in future as more people choose to work from home, for example.

What type of pricing do you think will make sense in future?

In most cases, a flat-rate pricing system is still the best option for both passengers and transport companies. It is cheap and simple for both sides. Subsidised prices only make sense for certain target groups, such as schoolchildren, low-income groups or the disabled. This is because public transport is a high-quality service that comes with corresponding costs. In order to cover these costs, everyone who benefits from public transport or uses the system must contribute to its running, such as by purchasing tickets or through third-party stakeholder financing. We will need much more public transport if we are to successfully revolutionise mobility by 2030. This will result in higher costs that cannot be financed by the public purse alone.

Which of the changes in public transport caused by Covid-19 do you think will remain after the pandemic?

Passengers who kept travelling on buses and trains throughout the pandemic experienced a full public transport service that remained reliable and offered plenty of space even at busy times. Transport companies also provided more information and paid greater attention to cleaning and hygiene. Passengers have therefore become more demanding in terms of quality, and this is not going to go away after the pandemic. We as a sector have to come to terms with this if we want to significantly increase passenger numbers by 2030 as planned. The best way to achieve this is through offering a high-quality service.

How is the year 2021 looking from a financial perspective? How have you handled the collapse in revenue?

In Germany, state and national governments provided around seven billion euros in aid to the public transport sector in 2020 and 2021 to compensate for losses. This aid was provided in a highly pragmatic way by governments and parties across the political spectrum, and we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who helped us. Without this support, we would have been unable to meet our responsibility of providing virtually a full service throughout the pandemic. So from a financial perspective, the public transport sector has so far come through the pandemic in pretty good shape. Despite this, we still expect lower revenues next year, as passenger numbers have yet to recover fully. We can’t yet put a precise figure on these losses, but we will have to speak to our partners soon and find solutions.