Cologne Public transportation officials are wrestling with the Corona fallout. A campaign aims to win back customers. However, price increases are not ruled out.
Users of local public transport (ÖPNV) must expect higher ticket prices for buses and trains in the region next year. "I am assuming price increases for 2022," said Michael Vogel, managing director of the Cologne-based Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Sieg (VRS), at a digital press briefing on Tuesday. Vogel spoke of a "field of tension" in which public transport was moving as a result of the Corona crisis.
On the one hand we need to win back lost customers, on the other hand is it "is it a question of solidarity", will the users also play their part and help to stem the losses of the ÖPNV, said the VRS managing director. He assumes "moderate price adjustments". The decision-making body for possible price increases in the VRS area is the association assembly, which is made up of representatives of the cities and districts that are members of the VRS, including the city of Bonn and the Rhein-Sieg district.
Corona study by Charité: Risk of infection in public transport not increased
Hundreds of thousands of people are in home offices, many stores are closed, a non-existent leisure life exists as well as the fear of catching an infection in buses and trains: The Corona pandemic had led to a serious slump in passengers. "Due to Corona, we made an emergency stop at full speed," said Ulrich Jaeger, chairman of the NRW regional group of the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV) and chairman of the transport company of the city of Wuppertal.
At the same time, he cited a study by the Charité hospital in Berlin. According to Jaeger, the risk of infection in buses and trains is no higher than in private cars. However, although the Corona situation is currently relatively relaxed, public transport user figures in NRW have not yet returned to pre-Corona levels. According to Frederik Ley, chairman of regional management at Deutsche Bahn subsidiary DB Regio NRW, utilization is currently at 60 to 65 percent compared to the time before the pandemic began.
Nationwide #BesserWeiter campaign aims to bring back passengers
But how can not only lost passengers be brought back, but also new customers be won? A nationwide marketing campaign under the slogan #BetterWeiter aims to do just that. Among other things, there is a campaign that allows holders of season tickets to use buses and trains throughout NRW beyond their actual ticket area during the summer vacations.
Likewise, the transport associations have developed ticket offers aimed at commuters who work increasingly, but not exclusively, in their home offices. There are also plans for a statewide electronic fare system that will allow people to travel without having to know anything about tickets or fares.
Furthermore, those responsible in politics as well as the transport associations and the transport companies are focusing on increasing the attractiveness of public transport with investments worth billions in tracks, stations and vehicles. According to Ley, more money is currently being invested in rail than in roads in NRW.
Another Corona bailout for public transport?
A modern transport policy is the best climate protection, said state Transport Minister Hendrik Wüst. "This also includes successful public transport," he continued. In his view, however, the mandatory wearing of masks on buses and trains should remain in place. "This is a small thing that is reasonable," VDV man Jaeger also said.
Wüst left open whether, after 2020 and 2021, there will again be financial aid from the federal and state governments for public transport in the coming year. This will have to be discussed in the fourth quarter of the year, Wüst said. "The willingness to talk about it is there.“
As reported, the transport companies operating in the VRS area had generated revenues of around 562.2 million Euro in 2020. According to VRS, this means a loss of almost 132 million Euro or almost 20 percent compared to 2019.
(Original text: Christoph Meurer, Translation: Mareike Graepel)