With the draft of a ninth law to amend the Regionalisation Act, the Federal Cabinet has cleared the way for the introduction of the so-called 49-euro ticket. From 1 May 2023, it will entitle passengers to use local public transport throughout the country and will be available in digital form in a subscription that can be cancelled monthly.
The 49-euro ticket is intended to build on the success of the nine-euro ticket in the summer of 2022, relieve citizens financially, increase the attractiveness of public transport and thus create incentives to switch to bus and rail to contribute to the climate goals (Federal Government 2023).
In the long term, a purely digital ticket should also create the basis for “being able to record data on traffic flows better. This can help optimise the offers of the transport associations and evaluate the use of the Deutschlandticket.” (Federal Government 2023), the argument goes.
Impetus for digitalisation
The digitalisation of local public transport through a digital ticket valid throughout Germany must be welcomed. It can provide a sustainable impetus for the digitisation and standardisation of the digital infrastructure of the transport associations in Germany. Furthermore, in many cases, it will simplify the prevailing tariff jungle in the various transport associations.
At the same time, however, it must be noted that many transport associations are not yet technically capable of regularly recording digital tickets for all journeys to measure traffic flows. This is another reason there is already talk of transitional solutions, as some associations will initially have to resort to paper tickets with QR codes for the periodic checks (tagesschau, 2023).
So there is still a long way to go before the desirable goal of measuring passenger flows in real-time, among other things, through the digital 49-euro ticket, is achieved. However, a uniform ticket is a sensible starting point.
Smartphones are not a matter of course for everyone.
In addition to the provider side, keeping an eye on the consumer side is important when introducing a purely digital ticket. As important and in many areas overdue as digitalisation is in Germany, care must be taken not to widen the digital divide in society. It is crucial to take all people along with us in the digital transformation and not to lose sight of those who do not have the necessary technical prerequisites or skills. Figures from the bidt-SZ-Digitalbarometer, for example, show that around 15% of the population aged 14 and over do not use a smartphone. Of about 72 million people in Germany aged 14 and over, about 11 million would not be reached by a purely smartphone-based solution for the 49-euro ticket. Especially among older and lower-income people, an above-average number of people do not use a smartphone.
A look beyond the borders of the Federal Republic of Germany within the framework of the bidt-SZ-Digitalbarometer.international, which was carried out comparatively in Austria, France, Finland, Italy, the UK and Spain, reveals that Germany has some catching up to do. It shows that smartphone use is much more pronounced in other countries, especially among older people. The proportion of smartphone users among 65-year-olds and older ranges from around 80% in countries such as Spain, Austria, France and the UK to 90% in Finland.
Partly lacking competencies for online payment.s
A ticket sold purely online will also present challenges for many people, regardless of smartphone use. In the bidt-SZ-Digitalbarometer, for example, around 16 % of Germans aged 14 and above state that they cannot pay for purchased goods or services online or only with other people’s help. Once again, this primarily affects older and lower-income people. In the group of 65-year-olds and older, almost 7 million people in Germany do not trust themselves to pay online for a 49-euro ticket, for example.
But low-cost mobility is also crucial for these groups of people, and they must not be forgotten when designing the 49-euro ticket.
The example of the 49-euro ticket shows again that there is still room for improvement in Germany, not only in the digitalisation of local public transport but also in the use of digital solutions by the population. Neither the provider side nor the consumer side is fully prepared for a purely digital ticket in a digital subscription.
Giving the digitalisation of public transport a boost with the introduction of the ticket is an important and correct goal. Digital chip cards, if necessary with QR code, can therefore be supplements to the ticket in the smartphone app. These must also be suitable and accessible for people without digital skills.
However, it is also clear that a digital ticket alone has little effect. Traffic flows can only be analysed in real-time if the digital infrastructure for the comprehensive recording of tickets is also available. Only when the digital skills of the population have reached a level where all citizens can acquire a digital ticket without outside help will a partial success of the digital transformation have been achieved. Ideally, introducing the 49-euro ticket will improve the recording of traffic flows in the future and create incentives to further spread the use of digital services among the population.
With the collaboration of Dr Christoph Egle, Christian Stumpf and Antonia Schlude.
The blog posts published by bidt reflect the views of the authors; they do not reflect the position of the institute as a whole.