Rising rail costs punish environmentally conscious commuters

German rail commuters are paying 16% more than they did in 2015, while car commuters are paying less in real terms, a study shows. This, at a time when societies should be incentivising environmentally-friendly travel that doesn’t contribute to road congestion, says T&E.

On a normal Monday morning, millions of European commuters pile onto trains across the continent. While passenger numbers have thinned following the outbreak of Covid-19, when commuters do return en masse they can expect to pay for it. Many may decide not to.

The German NGO Allianz Pro Schiene (Alliance for Rail) has shown how costs for rail commuters are rising more steeply than for car commuters. Using data from Germany’s federal office for statistics, it shows that fares for local rail travellers went up by 16% between 2015 and 2020, while the costs for local car travellers rose by just 4%. Given that the consumer prices index went up by 6% in the same period, car commuting has become cheaper in real terms.

The same analysis shows that long-distance rail prices fell by 15.4 per cent in 2020 as a consequence of a reduction in VAT from the beginning of 2020. The government permanently reduced the VAT rate for long-haul rail transport from 19% to 7%.

T&E’s rail campaigner Lucy Gilliam said: “Although this is just one study from one country, it serves to remind Europe’s governments not to forget about commuter rail. We cannot build a climate strategy on altruism, so governments need to set price signals to make doing the right thing the cheapest and easiest thing. If not, when commuters return to their offices, there won’t be much of an incentive to travel by train.”

Allianz Pro Schiene says a first priority should be to free rail in Germany from taxes on electricity, and to reduce track usage costs for train operators. “People who chose an environmentally friendly means of transport should not be financially punished,” said the group’s director Dirk Flege. “Fair conditions of competition would make public transport much more attractive for many people.”