If you go to the homepage of the Stendal transport company Stendalbus, the current news at the top says: “Advance sales for the Germany ticket have started!” This news is pretty much the opposite of current today. The Deutschlandticket was launched around eight months ago - and Stendal has already decided to leave.
The municipality in Saxony-Anhalt is the first district in the country to no longer want to take part in the nationwide ticket (stern reported). It is too expensive and is not used enough. But what is a nationwide valid Germany ticket worth if it is no longer valid nationwide? And what if Stendal now becomes a role model for other municipalities that are also not prepared to spend additional money? Some are already thinking about it. And they have the power to bury the Germany ticket.
In Germany, the districts are the so-called public transport authorities. You are responsible for how buses and trams run and, if in doubt, also bear the additional costs. But because many communities are short of money, every additional euro is a consideration: Would we rather put the money into daycare, the swimming pool or the bus?
In Stendal, the district council has decided that the bus or the Germany ticket is not worth it. Stendal expects 40,000 euros in lost income for the months from January to April 2024, which cannot be afforded. “There is no rational justification for the Stendal district’s exit,” says Eike Arnold from the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV). "The federal and state governments compensate for the lion's share of the additional costs."
This is also what it says in the guidelines for the Deutschlandticket of the state of Saxony-Anhalt. It states that the country is compensating for uncovered expenses in connection with the introduction of the Deutschlandticket. Before the introduction, the federal and state governments had expected billions in revenue shortfalls and therefore made a pot of three billion euros available from which the states can use and distribute the money among their districts.
The reason why Stendal now argues with an additional burden of 40,000 euros is as follows: In order to determine the shortfall in revenue in 2024 - which the federal and state governments will compensate for - the income that would have existed without the Deutschlandticket must first be estimated. For this purpose, only a ticket tariff increase of a maximum of eight percent may be applied. In Stendal, prices should rise by 15 percent in 2024. The loss of income that Stendal is expecting is higher than what the federal and state governments are expecting. Stendal does not believe that compensation for this difference is completely guaranteed.
It decides for itself whether the district wants to give additional money of its own for public transport - not just in this case, but in principle. Because of the law of local self-government, the federal government cannot make any regulations here. “It’s all voluntary,” says Andreas Knie, mobility researcher at the Berlin Science Center.
However, he finds it “cheeky” to use the currently popular Deutschlandticket as a “pretext” for the general debate on public transport financing. “Increasing public transport costs have already been taken into account in the near future, and this has nothing to do with the Deutschlandticket,” says Knie. “No rural municipality will therefore have additional costs until April 30, 2023.” Things are different in large metropolitan areas like Hamburg, where normal tickets sometimes cost more than twice as much as the Germany ticket. Not every euro is compensated anymore. In Stendal, however, some monthly tickets cost less than 49 euros.
From his point of view, the 49 euro ticket is “just the nail in the coffin of public transport financing” anyway. "More and more money has to be put into the buses because they mainly transport schoolchildren, especially in rural areas. There is no longer 'everyman' transport," Knie tells the business magazine "Capital". “In addition, there are huge amounts of money that flow into the bureaucracy.”
According to VDV, many transport companies are currently confronted with personnel, fuel and energy costs that have increased by up to 20 percent. If costs rise, there are three options for action, explains Arnold from VDV: "You can restrict the timetable, which is not in the spirit of climate protection and public services. Or you can increase the tariff, but not by 20 percent and not at all anyway because of the Germany ticket. So the municipalities inject more money, even if they have to turn over every euro anyway because of other burdens."
The additional 40,000 euros that Stendal would have had to raise may not seem like much. But the district is sending a signal that the idea of the federal government doesn't always work on a small scale. Knie from the WZB knows of at least ten other municipalities in western Germany that are also thinking about leaving the Deutschlandticket because the costs are too high. “The Germany ticket will also work without Stendal, even if it hurts us,” says Arnold. "But if more districts drop out, it will unsettle passengers and the ticket will lose its appeal."
The state of Saxony-Anhalt has now made an attempt to approach the Stendal district and wants to make more money available. “The state is taking a big step towards the municipalities,” Stendal district administrator Patrick Puhlmann tells “Capital”. In his opinion, they should now “take the small step” and extend the Germany ticket until April 30th. A special district meeting will therefore take place in Stendal shortly before Christmas, at which the ticket will be up for consideration again.
“But the signal still remains,” says Puhlmann. "There must be a fully financed concept for the Deutschlandticket from May 1, 2024, otherwise districts will not agree because they simply cannot do it financially. I firmly assume that it would then not only be the Stendal district."
Mobility researcher Knie says the death of the Germany ticket will happen “in installments”. The idea is a good one and that is gradually becoming clear to everyone. “But the industry is failing to modernize,” he says. "The federal government would be willing to make more money available, but only if the administrative apparatus was reduced. With mergers you could really get by with a fraction of the costs. But the industry has to fix that itself." He is therefore calling for a "modernization push" immediately in the new year - in time before the further financing of the ticket comes into play.
This article first appeared here in the business magazine "Capital", which, like stern, is part of RTL Deutschland.