Revolutionising the German transport system
Industry experts discuss the pros and cons of the Deutschlandticket
Huge demand for the Deutschlandticket, which has been available since 3 April 2023 (and will be valid from May) has been driven by passenger convenience, cost-effectiveness and reduced CO2 emissions. Its popularity is similar to that of the 9-Euro-Ticket, which was introduced in the summer of 2022. Although the Deutschlandticket builds on experiences learned from its predecessor, it still posed new organisational challenges for transport companies. Keen to find out more, the IT-TRANS team spoke to experts about the evolution of the 9-Euro-Ticket and Deutschlandticket, and what it means for the transport revolution in Germany. The extent to which digitalisation is driving the sector, user-friendly ticketing options and associated IT solutions are all key topics that will be addressed at the upcoming IT-TRANS, the leading trade fair and conference for digital solutions in public transport, which will take place from May 14-16, 2024.
The precursor to the Deutschlandticket was the 9-Euro-Ticket - a special offer for a limited period which was intended to make local public transport more attractive, while easing the financial burden in times of hardship. The ticket was not only intended to protect commuters and frequent travellers from rapidly rising energy costs, but also make public transport more attractive for those who had previously preferred to use their car. In total, more than 52 million 9-Euro- Tickets have been sold, saving around 1.8 million tonnes of CO2, which is roughly equivalent to the result of a one-year speed limit on German motorways (1). Yet despite its undisputed success, such a cheap ticket was not financially sustainable in the long run, according to political leaders at the time.
However, growing calls from associations and environmental organisations for the continuation of the 9-Euro-Ticket beyond August led to the creation of a follow-up ticket. Thus, the Deutschlandticket, at 49 euros per month, was born and offers the same benefits as the 9-Euro-Ticket. This time, though, it is designed to be a longer-term solution or compromise for rail travellers, with the cost borne by the transport companies until 2025, and an annual contribution by the federal and state governments to the tune of €1.5 billion as compensation for losses (2).
Lessons learned from the 9-Euro-Ticket
What was not obvious to the buyers of the discounted ticket, even in 2022, was how difficult it would be to successfully implement the short-term changeover of a long-standing system, with the perennial problem of different tariff areas and association borders. Although the 9-Euro-Ticket was an unmitigated success for the SSB - the Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen AG - with more than one million tickets sold (52 million tickets were sold throughout Germany), it also required a lot of work, according to Mathias Hirth, head of the sales department. For example, all existing season tickets had to be put on an equal footing with the 9-Euro-Ticket without disadvantaging either online or paper ticket users in the process. "We had to start preparing for the changeover even before the final framework conditions were set by the politicians," says Hirth. "The challenge was not in selling the 9-Euro-Ticket but, among other things, refunding customers who had already bought annual tickets. To implement price reductions on this scale across the board had never been done and therefore we had to start from scratch.“
"For more than 15 years, IT-TRANS has been the leading trade fair and conference for digital solutions in public transport. Naturally, we’re keen to know what our customers, both exhibitors and visitors, are currently most concerned about and how the market in Germany, Europe and the rest of the world is developing - for example, in ticketing. The Deutschlandticket obviously plays an important role here and, despite all the challenges, looks set to be a real milestone in the transport revolution," observes Markus Kocea, Senior Product Manager at IT-TRANS.
For Karina Kloppenburg from IVU Traffic Technologies, it was not only the many unanswered organisational issues but also the many to-do's involved in the technical implementation that made the changeover extremely complex. "One problem was the modernisation of the sales channels and subscription systems in a short time-frame. Previously, mobile subscription systems via smartphones were not commonplace, which is why there had to be investment in a new sales infrastructure," she says. In addition, the requirements of the Deutschlandticket had not been fully defined even up to the day of its launch on 1 May 2023, which led to customer uncertainty.
However, despite the difficulties, the introduction of the Deutschlandticket as the successor to the 9-Euro-Ticket is a milestone in transport innovation. "One ticket for regional and public transport in all German cities is a revolution for the German fare system," says Alexander Giegerich, Head of Sales & Marketing at the ATRON Group. Yet he also believes the conversion from the 9-Euro-Ticket to the Deutschlandticket to be costly and time-consuming: "In some associations, a suitable distribution and control infrastructure for a purely digital ticket is still lacking. And tickets on chip cards are not electronically readable for control purposes nationwide. In addition, the Deutschlandticket should be accessible to all age groups.“ Giegerich goes on to point out: "There are challenges in the digital area too. For example, going forward, the use of a dynamic Motics barcode on smartphones is planned to protect against copying and manipulation. However, it will take until the middle of 2024 at the earliest to introduce this nationwide.“
Even though the SSB says it has been well positioned in the field of digital ticketing for some time, Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen AG nevertheless faced an organisational challenge, as shortly before the introduction of the Deutschlandticket, the Youth Ticket BW was launched – also on 1 March, 2023. "Thankfully, the fact that we‘ve been investing heavily in digital ticketing for eight years is paying off," says Hirth.
There is agreement, too, that, going forward, digital, standardised ticketing is essential in order to make access to public transport as easy as possible for customers.
Cheaper, simpler and more flexible - but not for all
"The Deutschlandticket is definitely an opportunity for public transport, as it makes local transport more attractive for passengers, offers extra flexibility and is more user friendly: Passengers no longer have to worry about tariff boundaries, as long as they do not want additional transport options and offers not covered by the Deutschlandticket," says Kloppenburg from IVU. The needs of commuters, in particular, for whom the Deutschlandticket has now become much more affordable than a conventional ticket, are being addressed, he adds. Experts agree that the new Sparticket will encourage many people to switch to public transport for the longer term. But there is also something else to be considered: "For occasional users, it may still be cheaper to buy a 'normal' ticket, without any obligation to subscribe," says Giegerich. He also believes that retaining customers long-term may be a challenge. "If the travel experience is not great as a result of delays, overcrowding or other disruptions, the benefits of the new ticket will be negated. Furthermore, it’s not relevant in rural areas due to the frequent lack of public transport options. Therefore, in order to offer those in remote areas an alternative to their car, needs-based and flexible mobility offers must be created. But here, too, there are already encouraging examples of functioning on-demand transport. This must now be expanded quickly.“
The introduction of the Deutschlandticket was essential for the progression of public transport, however, according to experts, the momentum must continue, particularly with regard to investments. "We still a need to catch up in terms of investment in the public transport infrastructure. Germany is lagging behind countries such as Switzerland and Austria, with the latter investing much more in its infrastructure despite being less than a quarter of the size of Germany. For example, Germany invests €125 per inhabitant annually as opposed to Austria at €270," concludes Karina Kloppenburg.
While price is a key factor in consumer decisions to use public transport, so too are user-friendliness and convenient ticketing options for long-term retention. Not surprisingly, e-ticketing is one of the most important topics at IT-TRANS: At the last event in 2022, one-third of attendees visited with the aim of finding out about related solutions. In addition, according to a visitor survey, passenger information, e-mobility and flexible, on-demand services were among the most requested topics, and will therefore be high on the agenda at the upcoming IT-TRANS in May 2024.
(1) https://www.diepresse.com/6183023/co2-bilanz-des-9-euro-tickets-so-wie-ein-jahr-tempolimits-auf-deutschen-autobahnen (retrieval 09 May 2023)
(2) https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-de/themen/tipps-fuer-verbraucher/regionalisierungsgesetz-deutschlandticket-2161096 (retrieval 09 May 2023)