Despite years of debate and model tests, only a few cities in the country offer free public transport. Stuttgart will now start the first attempt next weekend.
For an initial weekend, Stuttgart wants to offer rides in its buses and trams free of charge – from September 18th to 19th. This is a test run, says City Manager Sven Hahn. The main aim is to bring life back to the city center so that trade and culture can benefit just as much as gastronomy.
Promotional weekend costs the city 450,000 euros
The city of Stuttgart is spending 450,000 euros on free public transport over the weekend. According to VVS managing director Horst Stammler, the shortfall in income is that high. A continuation of these free weekends also seems possible in the capital of Baden-Württemberg. If the premiere weekend is a success, the way is clear for four weekends with free public transport a year, says City Manager Hahn. Mayor Frank Nopper (CDU) was open to it, says City Manager Hahn.
In addition to this campaign, all nationwide who have a subscription for a transport association can travel free of charge in most other cities and regions in Germany by September 26th:
Throughout Germany until September 26th, everyone who has a subscription for a transport association can travel free of charge with local public transport in most other cities and regions in Germany.
In Baden-Württemberg, several municipalities are already approaching the attempt to offer free local transport to relieve the cities of car traffic or to support trade.
Tübingen: No tickets for journeys on Saturdays
Tübingen remains the top dog. Since 2018, city dwellers and tourists in the Neckarstadt no longer have to take tickets if they want to use the bus routes on Saturdays. Stadtwerke Tübingen (swt) are satisfied with the development: The number of passengers increased on Saturdays from 30.1 people per trip in the year before the campaign to 34.7 and finally 38.5 passengers in 2019, says swt- Speaker Ulrich Schermaul. No comparable figures are available for the past year due to the pandemic.
Ulm: Free rides on Saturdays until the end of the year
You can also drive for free in Ulm on Saturdays, but the offer is only valid until the end of the year. Since April 2019, the ticket-free Saturday has been intended to compensate for major construction sites and the elimination of underground parking spaces and to support trade. “The free local transport should be understood as a signal that the Ulm city center remains accessible,” says a spokeswoman for the city. Almost one million euros per year was transferred to the local transport association DING. The local council voted against a continuation of the model in the summer. After all, the underground car park will soon be opened, argued the opponents of the free driving.
Walldorf: Free public transport planned from next year
In Walldorf (Rhein-Neckar-Kreis), the seat of the lucrative trade tax payer SAP, they want to take the next step from next year: “Just get in” is the motto there from January 1st. The municipality is the first city in Baden-Württemberg to introduce free bus travel after Walldorf had been able to travel at half price since 2013. One expects a “significant reduction in car journeys to and from the city center, to the train station, to the industrial area and to the sports and leisure center as well as the so-called parents’ taxes,” says the SPD parliamentary group leader in the Walldorf municipal council, Manfred Zuber. The city will compensate for the lost income of the Rhein-Neckar transport association, amounting to 53,000 euros annually. After two years it will be checked how the passenger numbers have developed.
Transport minister warns of excessive costs for the state and municipalities
Walldorf is an exception, says Transport Minister Winfried Hermann (Greens). To offer public transport permanently free of charge requires considerably more subsidies than a ticket-free weekend. “Even today, around half of each ticket is funded by the public purse,” says Hermann. “That means that the regional authorities, transport associations or municipalities would have to at least double the means to cover costs.”
On certain days, for example on a long Saturday, a Sunday shopping or as an advertising measure for changing and boarding public transport, Hermann can imagine free offers as “a good thing”. “In this way, people who have not yet used public transport can get to know the alternatives to driving,” he says.
A monthly contribution from all residents or vehicle owners – and in return cheap or free offers in local transport? The municipalities would probably not oppose such models.
Karlsruhe, Heilbronn, Mannheim, Reutlingen and Herrenberg are going different ways
Cities such as Karlsruhe and Heilbronn are therefore strictly reluctant and refer to special price models and offers with which subscribers are to be convinced or retained. In the fan-shaped city and in Heilbronn, the “barrier fare” fell in 2019 at least on the Saturdays in Advent in order to relieve traffic. The HNV (Heilbronner-Hohenloher-Haller-Nahverkehr GmbH) has not yet made a decision on how to proceed in the coming Advent season, says a Heilbronn city spokeswoman.
As former model cities of the federal government, Mannheim, Reutlingen and Herrenberg are also going other ways. With a multi-million dollar grant from the federal government, reduced job tickets and digital tariffs, truck traffic bans and speed limits, a new city bus and subsidized single and monthly tickets in the urban area were very popular there.