Does the cheaper price alone really solve the public transport problem?
For 9 euros per month across the country: This will be possible in Germany from June 1, 2022. With this measure, the government is trying to protect citizens from rapidly rising petrol prices and living costs. And to motivate more people to switch from cars to buses and trains. But does a price reduction really lead to the desired goal?
Numerous cities, in countries around the world, have already tried to increase the attractiveness of public transport by lowering prices. For example, residents and visitors to Luxembourg have been using public transport completely free of charge since 2020; the same applies to the Estonian capital, Tallinn. In both cases, road users have switched to buses and trains - but not from their cars. Rather, it was pedestrians and cyclists who were encouraged by the lower costs.
Germany is now trying again. And at a time when many households are having to watch over every euro to finance their everyday life. It is precisely these people who benefit enormously from the opportunity to travel around the country on public transport for only 9 euros per month. It's also a post-pandemic time when people have avoided public transport out of concern for their health. By giving citizens yet another reason to switch from cars to buses and trains, the state is taking a first, important step to lure many of these people back to buses and trains. But it can't be the only one.
In order for public transport to become, and remain, the means of transport of choice in the long term, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted by price alone, but rather tackle the real problem. Examples from Tallinn and elsewhere tell us that price is not the problem.
From supply to reliability: there is a lot to do in public transport.
There are many reasons why people still prefer the car to public transport. In rural areas, for example, there is a lack of supply. One bus an hour? One stop per village? No wonder that life without a car is barely imaginable under such mobility conditions. For people with restricted mobility, the last and first mile to and from the bus stop make traveling by bus or train more difficult. In most cases, this has to be covered on foot. And last, but not least, it is the lack of reliable public transport that binds citizens to their cars. As long as road users have to put up with a loss of confidence and comfort, public transport will remain the second choice.
If we really want to motivate people to switch from cars to public transport, buses and trains must be a real alternative to comfortable private transport. We must prioritize public transport in traffic so that the passengers are the first to reach their destination. We need to connect the elements in the transport ecosystem in a way that enables smooth door-to-door and city-to-city travel, including, and especially for, people with reduced mobility. We need to expand the range of services in rural areas and connect the suburban and urban areas so that public transport also meets the needs of people outside of metropolitan regions.
With regard to climate change, there really isn’t a choice between cars and public transport. Because when it comes to emissions, buses and trains are a much cleaner option than private transport. If you want to travel sustainably, you have to leave your car behind. However, this argument is rarely used when weighing the pros and cons of different modes of transport. Not because road users don't want to, but because they can't. Neither navigation systems, nor mobility apps, inform travelers about the C02 emissions of their journey. They therefore have no way of making a conscious decision in favor of the more sustainable means of transport.