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Berlin: Senate Discusses Mandatory Flat Fee for Public Transport

Update: June 13th, 2020, 3:00 p.m. CEDT

The Berlin Senate is looking for new ways to fund the German capital’s rather large public transport system. One of the models listed in a secret survey is a flat fee most Berliners would have pay.

In Berlin, the Senate ordered a survey with answers to a big and important question: How could the public transport system be funded in a sustainable way? This is about making it more attractive and being able to cover the enormous costs for a necessary modernization. Besides, hundreds of new drivers are needed. They cost money.

Whiskey, Wine and Cheese

Berlin is growing. At least it was until Corona messed things up. At the same time, the public transport system is aging. U-Bahn (subway, metro, underground, tube) wagons are falling apart, meaning they urgently need to be modernized. The conversion of the BVG’s buses to electric propulsion is not exactly cheap either. If this was about whiskey, wine or cheese, age would be a positive aspect. But it isn’t.

The BVG’s new electric buses are attractive. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

The BVG, Berlin’s main public transport provider, has a fleet of more than 1,300 buses that operate on a total of 198 lines. It runs countless trams in the eastern part of the city, and the U-Bahn. The latter is spread over nine lines with a total length of 146.6 kilometers (91 miles) and 173 stations that are being served by 1,272 vehicles.

Pile of Cash

Deutsche Bahn runs the S-Bahn, Berlin’s supposedly fast city train. Just like the BVG system, the S-Bahn is aging. This applies to the tracks, the stations and the trains themselves, meaning everything. In all cases, the only remedy is a thing called money.

Most of the BVG’s 1,300 buses spread Diesel clouds. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

At this stage, Berlin’s public transport system is being funded from two sources, namely the income from ticket sales and the state. Each year, Berlin has to put a pile of cash on the table to keep it all going. The situation is not really satisfactory, which is why new ways to fund the whole thing have been discussed for years.

Funding Models

The new, ‘secret’ survey all German-language media in Berlin say they have “exclusively obtained”, includes the following models:

  • A ‘citizen ticket’ for all adult Berliners could fund the public transport. What this means is that all adult residents would pay a fixed amount per year for the public transport system, which everyone would use “for free”, meaning without purchasing tickets. According to this model, Berliners would pay 761 Euro (860 U.S. Dollars or 684 Pounds Sterling) per year. It would lead to an annual income of up to 1 billion Euro (1.1 billion Dollars or 0.9 Pounds). But this kind of fee could be too high, meaning it might have to be slashed in half.
  • The second model would be based on a low annual fee. But Berliners would have to purchase additional tickets during the morning rush hour, between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m.. The kind of income expected for this model would be far lower than 1 billion Euro.
  • The third model includes a low, compulsory fee for all Berliners. They would pay 285 Euro (322 Dollars or 256 Pounds) per year, while ticket prices would be reduced by 50 percent, meaning people would need to pay the fee and buy tickets.
  • There is a model which could be added to any other one. It is about milking tourists. Before Corona, more than 13 million of them hit Berlin per year. If they would be forced to pay 5 to 8 Euro (5.65 to 9 Dollars or 4.50 to 7.20 Pounds) per day, the additional income would be considerable.
  • Yet another way to collect the funds needed for public transport would be charging high parking fees for cars all over Berlin. But this model does not look too attractive, also because the districts would be in charge.
  • In the survey, a city toll was listed as an additional option. This approach is not new, meaning several cities in the world, including London, have a city toll. While Berlin could collect a huge pile of hard currency, this model would most likely be difficult to implement because many Berliners would firmly reject it, even though the German word ‘toll’ stands for ‘great’.
At some point, Berliners might not have to buy tickets anymore. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Opposition Opposes Flat Fee

The conservative ‘Morgenpost’ daily is opposed to any of the models mentioned in the survey. The paper is so worried that it did not quote one, but two representatives of Berlin’s conservative CDU, including its chairman Kai Wegner. “The ‘red-red-green’ coalition is throwing millions out the window”, he said, referring to Berlin’s three-way government coalition which consists of the center-left Social Democrats, the far-left ‘Die Linke’ and The Greens who are left-wingers as well. “Because the Senate does not have its finances under control, it intends to go for people’s wallets”, Wegner was quoted saying.

In the meantime, the Senate is looking into all models the survey lists. The discussion will likely continue for a long time. While it does, Berlin’s public transport system will keep on falling apart.

On Friday night, Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller said on RBB TV, a mandatory fee would burden those who did not use public transport, such das cyclists and pedestrians. Therefore, the mandatory flat fee was not viable.

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