"Price doesn't matter": How the Viennese learned to love their subway

The 9-euro ticket is about to expire - an extension is being discussed to boost the traffic turnaround.

"Price doesn't matter": How the Viennese learned to love their subway

The 9-euro ticket is about to expire - an extension is being discussed to boost the traffic turnaround. In Vienna there has been a 365-euro annual ticket for ten years. However, the cheap ticket has little influence on the mobility behavior of the Viennese.

When the first subways were built in the Austrian capital in the 1960s, many Viennese went on the barricades. "For God's sake, that's far too dangerous, Vienna doesn't need that," residents of the Danube metropolis are said to have said, as Daniel Amann, spokesman for Wiener Linien, tells ntv.de. But the network was expanded, frequency increased and the 365-euro ticket was introduced in 2012. Today, almost 40 percent of Vienna's residents use public transport - much more than the European average. "The Viennese have learned to love the subway," says Amann.

With the introduction of the 9-euro ticket in Germany three months ago, the citizens should be relieved in the first place. But there was great hope that the Germans would also leave their cars at home and take the subway more. The final results are still pending, but initial evaluations show that this goal has not been achieved. "No driver said: I'll leave my car at home from now on," said traffic expert at the Berlin Science Center, Andreas Knie, recently in an interview with "Capital". That doesn't surprise Amann. Because "the price alone is not decisive".

With the 365-euro ticket in Vienna, more people are buying annual tickets - from 370,000 before 2012 to 860,000 a year now. But many new customers have not been added. The proportion of Viennese who use bus and train as a means of transport was already 37 percent in 2012. Today it is 38 percent. For comparison: 25 percent of Berliners now use public transport. There are even fewer in the other major German cities.

The inexpensive 1 euro per day ticket in Vienna was just the cherry on the cake: "This offer came at the end of a long process," says Lars Wagner, spokesman for the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV). A permanent 29-euro ticket in Germany would relieve citizens massively, which is worth a lot in times of eight percent inflation. However, the low-priced offer made little contribution to the traffic turnaround. "If we talk about the traffic turnaround in the long term, the price cannot be reduced first," says Wagner. "At least in parallel, the offer must be massively expanded." As the example in Vienna shows, the offer makes a lot more difference than the low price.

The Austrian capital has been investing heavily in the expansion of local public transport for decades - according to Wiener Linien, it was 503 million euros in 2021. In Berlin, the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) invested 464.7 million euros in the transport network in the same period. With an area twice the size of Vienna, the German capital would have to invest significantly more if it wants to keep up. "But of course that's only possible if the political will is there," says Amann.

The traffic turnaround costs a lot of money. Wiener Linien GmbH can cover a maximum of 65 percent of daily operations with its own income. The rest and all further investments are paid for by the city of Vienna and partially by the federal government. In total, the bill amounts to one billion euros per year, explains Amann. However, very little tax money is used for this. Because a large part of the money for the expansion of public transport comes from two sources.

On the one hand, with the so-called employer tax, the beneficiaries of the public transport services are asked to pay. Every company, every business, every company that has a location advantage through good connections has to pay a "subway tax". Since 2012, these employers have been paying two euros per employee per week.

On the other hand, all parking fees in Vienna flow directly into the investment pot for the expansion of public transport. In 2019, the city took in 123 million euros in this way. In Berlin in 2013, the Senate administration received 33 million euros from parking fees. Current figures are not available. The massive difference is mainly due to the high parking prices in the Austrian capital. A parking permit for residents there costs ten euros a month. Berliners pay the same amount for a whole year.

The result of this measure is a double incentive to leave the car at home: Because driving a car is becoming more and more expensive, while buses and trains are not only cheaper but also better equipped. "In Vienna you don't run after anyone, not even the subway," says Amann. The bus and train density has been massively expanded in recent years. The better the offer, the more likely people are to switch from cars to trains.

In Germany, a subway tax is hardly legally possible, says Wagner. However, the introduction of the Vienna model of parking space management would be conceivable. But here the traffic expert sees a cultural problem: In hardly any other EU country is the love for cars as great as in the Federal Republic. "The car is the favorite child of the Germans," he says. Even Wagner, a real advocate of climate-neutral transport, therefore understands that the federal government is reluctant to increase the costs for drivers. Especially in times of inflation and high energy prices, the traffic light does not want to burden its voters with higher parking fees.

The cultural shift away from the car takes time. In Vienna, too, it took many years for public transport to become so popular. In 1993, only 29 percent of the city used public transport - it was only 20 years later that the city reached today's level.

However, Germany cannot take as much time as Austria. After all, there are less than eight years left to achieve the federal government's statutory climate targets. Of the six fields of action that must contribute to reducing emissions, the transport sector has so far made the smallest contribution. By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions from transport must fall to 85 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Compared to 2019, this means almost a halving: 48 percent less.

If these goals are not achieved, the German government will have to pay billions in fines to the European Union. "Wouldn't we rather pay less now than pay billions in fines afterwards?" Wagner asks. According to the transport expert, the goals for 2030 will not be achieved without the redesign of public transport. Of course, the price is decisive for consumers. But with just 29 or even 9 euros a month, it will not be possible to drastically change the behavior of people in Germany in such a short time.

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