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Germany’s affordable public transport shows trends in reduction of car use

Since the beginning of June, Germany has sold monthly tickets for nine euros that are valid for unlimited trips across a vast swathe of its public transport network. The bold move for BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen, was designed to take the sting out of soaring inflation and cut vehicle emissions.

Urban traffic congestion eased in the weeks after Germany made public transport almost free, data shows, suggesting an experiment by Europe’s largest economy to combat the use of cars may be having some success.

While it is still early to draw conclusions, data compiled by the navigation company TomTom suggest the policy may be having an effect.

During the week of June 20, the data shows that rush-hour traffic congestion was down in 23 out of 26 cities compared with the week of May 16, before the new ticket was introduced.

“This decline is related to the introduction of the nine-euro ticket,” said TomTom traffic specialist Ralf-Peter Schaefer.

Other factors may also play a role in the reduction, such as high fuel prices and pandemic-related work from home trends. But TomTom data for the full month of June also shows lower congestion compared with both May this year and June 2019, before the pandemic: congestion was down in 24 out of 26 cities in June from May, and in 21 out of 26 cities in June 2019.

The findings could interest policy makers weighing up possible measures for low-cost public transport beyond August.

The cheap ticket has also spurred train usage, which was up 42% in June from the same month in 2019, according to Germany’s statistics office. The rise has been most marked at weekends, leading to complaints from some passengers about overcrowding.

In 2020, Luxembourg became the first country to make public transport free of charge. Officials there have reported increased tram usage, and TomTom data show congestion down in recent months from pre-pandemic levels.

But it may be an uphill battle to wean some Germans off their cars. As many reported to still prefer the convenience of driving.

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