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Transport association defends its prices: How the VRS justifies the high fares in Bonn and the region

Transport association defends its prices : How the VRS justifies the high fares in Bonn and the region

In a study, the German Automobile Club (ADAC) identified major price differences in local public transport, comparing ticket prices across Germany. The Rhine-Sieg Transport Association (VRS) in particular did not look come out looking good. But the VRS does not want to let that stand.

The ADAC regularly examines the prices for buses and trains in cities across Germany. And this time it found that the Rhein-Sieg Transport Association (VRS) offers the second most expensive monthly pass in Germany at 105.50 euros. A day ticket is also particularly expensive at 8,80 euros.

The GA reported on Thursday on the study. For VRS spokesman Holger Klein, the messages sent out as a result of that study have nothing to do with reality. Most passengers, Klein estimates 80 per cent, ride with so-called “Abo tickets”, only few use an individual ride ticket. And he says a monthly pass with an Abo (subscription) costs only 89 euro. Basically, Klein says, "The prices in local transport cannot be compared with each other because there are different financing models.”

The VRS spokesman mentions two of these. First, there is user financing, which is being done at Rhine and Sieg, where a large part of the costs is covered by ticket sales. In the case of the VRS, this is 75 percent, according to Klein. The rest of the costs come from the municipalities and the districts, and to a lesser extent from the state.

The second form of financing relies more heavily on taxpayers. Roughly translated, it is called a beneficiary system. In concrete terms, ticket prices are lower because the municipalities make more money available from their budgets to finance local transportation. Recently, the political representation in the transport association decided to move away from user financing. Will tickets in the VRS system then become cheaper? This remains unclear.

But the four Bonn representatives in the political body of the VRS have already voted once to not agree to a price increase for next year. According to information from Green Party representative Rolf Beu, the mayor abstained, and the representatives of the SPD and CDU, like himself, rejected the ticket price increase. Afterwards, Beu and SPD representative Max Biniek circulated a press release in which they called ticket price increases "no longer in keeping with the times." They viewed it as detrimental to the expansion of public transport and getting people away from their cars and into more environmentally friendly means of transport.

However, Beu and Biniek also pointed out that any additional costs incurred could not be borne by the municipalities in the Rhineland. Actually, there would have to be "another way of financing" local transport, Beu told the GA. During his time as a member of the NRW state parliament between 2012 and 2017, he dealt intensively with "financing options for local public transport" in an exploratory commission.

One example of how things could be different: In France, companies are also involved in the financing of local public transport for specific purposes. It is not acceptable that the only alternative is always to increase fares or to drive up the subsidies paid by municipalities and districts.

The city of Bonn, as a VRS shareholder of the Stadtwerke Bonn (SWB), is already paying a "medium to high double-digit million amount as loss compensation" to the VRS member transport companies, according to Beu. Nowhere else in Germany does the fare revenue even begin to cover the costs, the transport expert says. Beu admits that tickets in Bonn are expensive. And the reliability of the transport also leaves something to be desired, which has to do with the fact that there is no reserve staff and the buses often don't move fast enough in Bonn, which is plagued by traffic jams.

With buses and low-floor trams (between Dottendorf, Auerberg and Beuel) and high-floor trams (in the direction of Siegburg, Königswinter, Bad Godesberg and Cologne), there are three transport systems that require high maintenance and thus drive up costs. This is not comparable with the service in similarly sized cities such as Münster, where there are only buses. As well, there are five-minute intervals in all main directions. And in the populated urban area, it is never more than 450 meters to the next stop. "It's a comprehensive service that doesn't exist anywhere else," says Beu.

VRS spokesman Klein believes that ticket prices are not such a deciding factor as to whether people take buses and trains. It's more a matter of reliability, attractiveness and frequency. Of course, there is still room for improvement, but especially in the urban areas, the offer is impressive. And as far as prices are concerned, many customers are now also making use of the e-tariff or the cell phone ticket, i.e., those options that the ADAC did not investigate.

(Orig. text: Bernd Eyermann / Translation: Carol Kloeppel)