Monthly Rail Pass In Germany Cuts Carbon Emissions By 1.8 Million Tons

On June 1, Germany initiated a program that allowed people a month of unlimited travel on regional train networks, trams, and buses for just €9. The 90-day program was designed to help people struggling with increases in the cost of living due to higher energy prices by allowing them to leave their cars at home and take public transportation instead. A total of 52 million tickets were sold during the 90 trial period, 20% to people who do not normally use public transportation.

According to The Guardian, the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV) interviewed 6,000 people a week — about 78,000  in all — in cooperation with the national rail carrier Deutsche Bahn and the marketing research organizations Forsa and RC Research. Based on that research, the number of trips by automobile not taken by the 20% of riders who do not use public transportation on a regular basis resulted in 1.8 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere.

Low Fares Are Popular In Germany

“The popularity of the €9 tickets had been unabated and the positive effect on it in tackling climate change is verifiable,” the VDV said. Just over 37% of people who bought the €9 ticket used it to get to work, 50% used it for everyday journeys such as to go shopping or visit the doctor, 40% used it to visit people, and 33% used it for day trips.

People in Germany who bought the low fare tickets were almost giddy with their praise for the program. Not only did they like how inexpensive the tickets were, the loved that the one price fare eliminated a welter of confusing fares that are typical when using public transportation that crosses regional boundaries and  involving different fare structures.

Of course, €9 doesn’t come anywhere close to paying the actual cost of a month of unlimited journeys on public transportation, but it does result in income of €468 million. According to the Germany federal environment agency, the environmental damage resulting from one ton of CO2 emissions is worth about €180, which means the value of those avoided emissions was £324 million. Add those two sums together and Germany realized a total economic benefit of €792 million during the 3-month period.

To put the reduction in carbon emissions into perspective, VDV says they are equivalent to the emissions created by heating German 350,000 homes. It also says a similar reduction could be achieved by instituting a national speed limit, something that has very little support among German citizens.

Now the German government and regional administrations are under pressure to continue the monthly ticket program in one form or another. The expectation is that any replacement would be priced at least six times higher, but surveys show enthusiasm for such a program is still high. £54 a month is still a lot less than most drivers would spend for fuel, tolls, parking, and the other costs associated with driving a private automobile.

Not everyone was happy, of course. You can’t please all the people all the time. Some said the trains were overcrowded, while others complained they could not bring their bicycles on board. But the most criticism came from passengers in rural areas where  connectivity between various independent services is often nonexistent. Ticket sales in rural areas were the lowest, probably due to poor availability of public transport in those areas.

The Takeaway

There are some who say one powerful way to cut carbon emissions from transportation is to make all public transportation free. That may seem frightfully expensive, but it may not be if the value of avoided carbon emissions is part of the calculation. In addition, it might be more appropriate for governments to subsidize public transportation instead of the purchase of more private passenger cars? The challenge of a warming planet may require rethinking how we humans get from place to place, even if doing so is less convenient.

A hat tip to Are Hansen who first brought this story to our attention.


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