Widespread usage of public transportation isn’t just about cost; it’s about User Experience!

Getting more people to use public transportation isn’t just a financial question. Of course, if the infrastructure isn’t there, it needs to be built. However, assuming that the infrastructure is already there and the buses are already driving (paid for by the customers or taxes), how can we increase usage?

Germany’s Green Party recently proposed (again), to drastically reduce the price for public transportation to get more people to use it. But if you look at the details of their suggestion, it’s not just about reducing prices, but about simplifying the overall experience.

Germany technically has a dense network of accessible public transporation and it’s more widely used that, say, in the United States due to a variety of reasons. There’s a great article here about why Public transportation in the US sucks.

Contrary to what one might think, this is not due to subsidies alone. Looking at the numbers, it looks like the other way around: The United States subsidize a greater percentage of public transporation than Germany.

So if more subsidies don’t necessarily lead to greater usage of public transporation, why are Germans trying to get people to use it by making it cheaper through subsidies?

I don’t know.

To a certain extent, I believe, the price is a factor, but it’s not everything.

The important step now is to improve the user experience and that’s the main problem with public transporation in Germany.

When you drive a car, you can use the same driver’s license anywhere in Europe and pay for fuel with the same Visa card. This sounds obvious, but getting from one place to another with public transportation is a pain. Every place has its own regional rail network. Every city has its own bus company. Everywhere, buying tickets works different. Sometimes you can indeed pay with a credit cards, sometimes yo have to fiddle with coins. To mitigate this problem, ticket zones in some areas overlap, which means you can continue using a ticket you bought in a particular city in surrounding areas. But the problem is that you can’t rely on it without reading the fine print everywhere.

Having a universal ticket that can be used anywhere anyone would reasonably want to go would solve those issues.

There are some programs with yearly 365€ tickets for students, but why is that limited to students? Aren’t the Driver’s-license owning adults the ones we want to convince of using public transportation? There are also free/cheap public transporation programs limited to cities, but this means you still need to know where exactly the border of the covered area is when you commute. These are small details, and regular public transportation commuters know exactly where to look. But for people not familiar with the matter, those details do matter and make the difference between using the services and simply taking the car.

Don’t expect users to learn and do their homework if they could just walk on existing paths! If you expect your users to bend, you better have a good reason for it! 

History has shown that customers will pay the price if they get a more convenient experience.

That’s why the proposal with the year-round tickets isn’t really about getting around for 1€ a day: it’s about putting and end to the Kleinstaaterei and providing a better experience. 365€ per year is symbolic. It could be 500 or 2459. It doesn’t make a big difference.


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