Germany’s €49 ($52) National Train Pass: a great deal or still too expensive?

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: October 3, 2023

In May, Germany announced that it was making its €49 monthly national train pass permanent. But with rising inflation and lower salaries, average Germans complain that even this is too much, and the program’s future is uncertain.

In the summer of 2022, the German national government offered a €9 ($9.50) monthly train pass, a three-month deal that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hailed as “one of the best ideas” by his government. The promotional ticket, designed to help residents cope with rising inflation and fuel costs as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was easily purchased on busses and light rail and from vending machines using a European bank card or international credit card.

Compared with that short-lived deal, only 43% of Germans thought that public transit should cost no more than €49/month. Another recent survey found that 25% of Germans think public transit shouldn’t charge riders at all. But a study by Germany’s Ministry of Transport predicts that this price isn’t sustainable—transport companies continue facing rising energy costs, disrupted supply chains, and staffing shortages.


Is the subsidy worth it?

Currently, both the German federal and state governments each contribute €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion) to keep the national train pass at €49. Some states, such as Bavaria, where state-wide tickets are €29, have subsidized the pass even more. German think tank the Wuppertal Institute estimates that making train tickets €29 nationally would double demand.

This could have a major positive environmental impact—the popularity of the €9 ticket prevented an estimated 600,000 tons of CO2 emissions per month.


Cost of living crisis

Rising transportation costs are only one part of the challenge Germans are facing. While Americans continue to feel the pinch of inflation at the grocery store and at restaurants (US consumer food prices rose by an estimated 4.9% in July), inflation rates for similar products in Germany is up 11%.

Germany’s economy continues to slowly bounce back from the Pandemic. Housing in Germany takes up less of a family’s income than in most rich countries, but it’s not uncommon for 10% of a household’s budget to be spent on energy. This is largely because 27% of their energy comes from natural gas, 55% of which was sourced from Russia before the invasion of Ukraine (as of June, Germany only sourced 25% of its gas from Russia).

Yet Germany is being creative about ways to bounce back from the Pandemic, and economic hurdles imposed by the war in Ukraine. In Berlin, residents between the ages of 18-23 are being encouraged to get back out in the city’s night life with a €50 culture card, courtesy of the city’s government.


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