…is what I imagine on those rare occasions when the ticket-checkers come through the bus or train, with their official equipment tucked almost unnoticeably at their waists. I’ve been taking local public transportation almost every weekday (and many weekends) since I moved to Germany about nine months ago. It’s convenient, usually not too crowded, and generally clean and comfortable. In that time, I’ve had to prove that I’ve paid less than ten times. Twice happened to be this Wednesday, coincidentally just after I bought my first monthly pass.
In Germany, many rules rely on personal responsibility. You don’t show your ticket or pass to the bus driver (as I did the first time I rode), you’re just trusted to have paid when you get on. The penalty for schwarzfahren (riding without paying)? A €40 fine if you get caught by the plain-clothes ticket checkers or a train conductor. A friendly-looking ad on the buses has a checklist for such riders, reminding them to sweat, cry, make excuses …and finally pay their €40. I must say, I’ve never seen anyone have to do this yet.
You can buy your necessary-but-rarely-checked ticket from the bus driver, an automated machine located at train stations and some bus stations, a ticket counter at a major train station (many small stations don’t have these), or online at home or on your phone at rmv.de (for the Rhein-Main area).
It ends up being a pretty good deal. Single ride tickets for adults cost €2.60 and can be used for up to two hours from purchase time on any form of local transportation: buses, regional trains, subways, and/or streetcars. So if you have to transfer from a bus to a train to a subway within that time, it’s all included on the same ticket. And here you can even bring your dog, your bike, or your Kinderwagen (baby carriage/stroller) along for the ride as well.
Of course, there are many ways to save a little more money, depending on your travel plans. For example, you can buy a collection of five tickets at any time for only €10.40. Then when you’re ready to ride, you just time-stamp one at a small yellow machine on the bus or at the train station. If you’re going to be riding several times throughout the day, it might be worth it to get a day pass for €6.30. Even better, if you have three to five people traveling in a group all day, it’s worth getting a group day pass for only €9.50.
If you generally commute weekdays, as I’m doing this month for work, you can save with a weekly, monthly, or yearly pass. With these, you can even have another person ride with you on evenings and weekends at no extra charge!
Naturally the rates for each type of ticket and pass are higher when you’re traveling from one regional zone to another (i.e. Mainz to Frankfurt). And many discounts apply for children, seniors, interns, etc.
While I was taking German classes at the Volkshochschule (VHS = state-sponsored adult education center), my course receipt doubled as a public transit pass before and after class. This made getting there essentially free and easy. As the cute little bus on the receipt says, “Hin- and Rückfahrt ohne Stress, mit KombiTicket der vhs”: “To and fro without stress, with combo-ticket from VHS.”
Okay, so the rare “ticket raids” aren’t as dramatic as I imagine them to be. But as I sit back cozily reading on my ride through Rhein country and fields, secure in knowing that my ticket is safely stowed in my wallet, sometimes listening to annoying teenagers on summer break or some nutty lady chattering to herself, I wonder why this system works so well and what would happen during an actual “bust.”