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Public transport in Bonn and the region: Will bus and train passengers be better off in the future?

Public transport in Bonn and the region : Will bus and train passengers be better off in the future?

The tariffs for bus and train are constantly increasing in Bonn and the region. The Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Sieg (VRS) is now starting a debate about the future financing of the service.

The Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Sieg (VRS), which is also responsible for ticket prices in Bonn's local transport system, is facing a problem. The constant increases in ticket prices, justified by rising costs for employees, electricity and the expansion of infrastructure, no longer appear to be in keeping with the times to encourage car drivers to switch to bus and train. In 2019, the approval for a price increase of 2.5 percent on average from January for season tickets was passed by the politically occupied association meeting by a very narrow margin. The VRS had proposed 4.66 percent. Now it seems that the VRS is considering a more cautious approach to price increases in the future.

The association meeting had decided that the VRS management should show the local authorities how things could continue after 2021 without the passengers paying more and more. On Wednesday, the VRS leadership will present its ideas at a joint meeting of the Planning and Finance Committee of Bonn City Council. No details were available in advance. But in the written invitation to the meeting, the VRS has already indicated the direction: The debate on the last fare increase showed "that the principle of predominant user financing no longer seems appropriate and should be reconsidered in favour of more public funding". Background: Up to now, the motto has been not to let subsidies from cities and districts increase too much and rather to make tickets more expensive.

Last week the VRS managing directors Norbert Reinkober and Michael bird in the Rhine Erft region debated for the first time before local politicians. "The VRS made clear once again its financing structure. It has also become clear to me that the federal government must become more involved in financing," said SPD parliamentary party leader Dierk Timm. In the VRS area, an average of 75 percent of revenues are generated by ticket sales. The local authorities make a considerable contribution: Bonn refers to the published annual reports on local transport. According to the most recent one for 2017, the city paid compensation payments of 25 million euros to the transportation division of the public utilities. On top of this, there were further millions of infrastructure funds, all in all around 30 million Euro. According to Timm, Bonn alone would have incurred additional costs of 6.7 million Euro for SWB and 1.2 million Euro for the city if the tariff increases had been halted in 2020/21.

During their lecture Reinkober and Vogel talked about the "Viennese Model", which is considered exemplary. There, passengers pay one euro per day for their annual ticket ("365-Euro-Ticket"). They also made suggestions that could perhaps be implemented in the local authorities of the transport association as counter-financing. There was talk of an employer's levy, and also of consistent parking space management, from the proceeds of which the additional costs could be partially paid.

Timm, Gerd Fabian (CDU) and Johannes Bortlisz-Dickhoff (Greens) from the Erft district unanimously reported that the VRS management had explained that free local public transport in the VRS area would cost about one billion euros per year and would be accompanied by a 30 percent increase in passenger numbers: about 680 million euros would be generated by ticket sales, and the state and federal government would provide subsidies of 211 million euros, for example as subsidies for school and disabled tickets. In order to cope with the increase in passenger numbers, 120 million Euro would have to be invested in express bus lines, for example. A network-wide 365-Euro ticket would result in additional costs of 200 million euros, which would probably have to be paid by the municipalities. In the opinion of the VRS managing directors, a good service (busy schedules) and good quality (reliable vehicles) are more important for passengers than a favourable price.

With an intergroup motion, the association's assembly had decided in 2019 that the VRS should apply for the electronic mobile phone ticket (eTarif) as a model project in the German government's climate package. The idea: a cost cap for users at 35 to 40 Euro per month. The additional costs would probably be somewhat higher than for the 365 Euro ticket. It is unclear how much the federal government would be prepared to pay for the project. The VRS is testing the e-ticket with several thousand customers. It allows billing „as the crow flies“.

Original text: Philipp Königs

Translation: Mareike Graepel