Cologne Tickets for buses and trains in Bonn and the region are to be increased. This was decided by the Rhein-Sieg transportation network (VRS) on Friday. Tickets will gradually become more expensive over the next two years.
Probably not every employee of the Rhein-Sieg transportation association(VRS) knew that there was a voting booth in the offices on Cologne’s Glockengasse. After all, such a cabin has never been needed since the VRS was founded on 1 September 1987.
Until Friday. At the request of the CDU, the members of the association voted secretly in a special meeting to increase in prices for buses and trains.
On 1 January 2020 and 1 January 2021, prices will be increased by an average of 2.5 per cent each time. However, this increase only applies to season tickets (monthly tickets). The single tickets of the so-called cash tariff will not become more expensive. The result of the vote was both clear and concise.
After entering the voting booth, 27 out of 36 voters present voted for the price increase, and nine voted against. Because decisions in the association meeting must be made with a three-quarters majority, one additional negative vote could have prevented the price increase.
More money for personnel, fuel and material
Higher costs for personnel, fuel and material: the transport companies operating in the VRS – including the Bonn Public Utilities (SWB) and the Cologne Public Transport Authority (KVB), but also railway companies such as National Express and Deutsche Bahn – need more money, and if not from more expensive tickets, then from elsewhere.
Before the vote, VRS Managing Director Michael Vogel gave the members of the association meeting a presentation containing many figures and calculations.
The bottom line is: with no fare increases for two-years, the transport companies would have to receive 48 million euros from other sources during this period. If this deficit is scaled down, according to Vogel, the shortfall at the SWB, for example, would be about 6.7 million euros, and about 20 million euros at the KVB.
Without a price increase, this sum would have had to be raised by the cities and districts in the VRS area. Due to the decision of the association meeting, the treasurers in the region can now breathe a sigh of relief.
The association meeting is a special situation and in it, sit representatives from the cities of Cologne, Bonn, Leverkusen, Monheim as well as from the Rhein-Erft district, the Rhein-Sieg district, the Rheinisch-Berg district, the Oberberg district and the district of Euskirchen. These representatives are both administrative employees and politicians – which is why the battle front cuts right across everyone, whether they are sorted by local authority or by political faction.
Dierk Timm (SPD, Rhein-Erft-Kreis) therefore had explained before the vote that there will be both yes and no votes among the social democrats. In fact, the SPD representatives from Bonn, Gabi Mayer, and Ute Krupp and Dietmar Tendler from the Rhein-Sieg district, as well as Gerhard Zorn (SPD, Rhein-Berg), declared in advance that they would vote against the price increase.
“We cannot preach each year that we need an affordable public transport and then nevertheless raise the fares each year”, explained the Rhein-Sieg SPD.
New ticket prices to exist in September
The Bonn Green politician Rolf Beu had also announced in advance that he was against the price increase. Following the meeting, he spoke in a press release of a “black day for climate change and the traffic turnaround in the region”. Ingo Steiner (Greens, Rhein-Sieg-Kreis) said in the meeting that the “ecosystem of public transport financing” was collapsing.
Christian Pohlmann (FDP, Rhein-Erft-Kreis) also declared at the meeting that he agreed to higher prices “but was very angry inside”. He also thought that people’s acceptance of higher prices had reached their limit. Michael Weisenstein (Left party, Cologne) said that a further increase was not right from the point of view of transport policy.
Walter Wortmann (Free Voters Party, Cologne) said that a tariff price freeze would send the wrong signal to the federal and state governments and would therefore not be a constructive approach if more money were to be made available for local public transport at these levels.
The view of the CDU was unanimous. Gerd Fabian (Rhein-Erft-Kreis) said in the meeting that they agreed to the price increase. At the same time, he emphasised that one wanted to move away from a user-financed public transport system to one financed by public contributions. Fabian said, however, that these two years were necessary to bring about changes in the tariff system.
There was agreement on this. In September, the association meeting will deal with the question of how to get more money from the state and the federal government– among other things on the basis of an SPD motion. But also these prices will be on the agenda again. Until then, experts at the VRS will calculate how much more expensive a ticket will be.
(Original text: Christoph Meurer, translation John Chandler)