Public transportation is a great way to travel in Germany. Many people living in Germany use public transportation as an alternative to driving their own personal car. The International Association of Public Transport did a study on public transportation in 39 countries. Of all the European countries, Germany had the largest public transportation ridership. In fact, in the German Federal Statistics Office published statistics showing that in 2016 there were 11.38 billion journeys – a record for Germany.
It comes as no surprise then that Germany has one of the best local transportation systems in all of Europe.
Almost all major cities in Germany have buses, trams, trains and metros that work together to provide an efficient public transportation system. In addition, ride-sharing has become very popular.
Sections in this article:
Buying Tickets for Public Transportation
Of course, you need to buy a ticket to use the buses, trams, S-Bahn and U-Bahn. Each city determines the cost of their tickets. You can buy a one-way ticket, a multi-trip ticket, or an all day ticket.
With even just a single ticket, you can use as many modes of transportation as necessary, as long you stay within the ticket’s zones and the allotted time. The more zones you purchase the ticket for, the more time you have to use the ticket.
For example, let’s say you’ve just arrived to Munich. You need to get from the Munich airport to Olympiazentrum. To do this you first need to take the S1 (S-Bahn) and then the U3 (U-Bahn). This journey crosses four zones. So you would buy a single ticket for four zones. In Munich, a single ticket for four zones is valid for four hours, and you can use , , , and tram.
Tip: I often use Google Maps in Germany to see which mode of transportation I need to take.
The public transportation system in Germany functions under the honor system. You need to validate your ticket with a stamp after you purchase it, but you don’t need to show your ticket to get on the train, bus, etc. There’s no fare gate.
If a public transportation officer, however, asks to see your ticket and you either don’t have one or didn’t validate the one you bought, you will be fined €60.
Biking is a very popular way to travel in Germany. Many Germans commute to work by bike. You’ll find bike lanes around almost all major cities in Germany.
The only downside of biking is that bike theft is becoming more common in Germany. In fact, data from German police showed that 300,006 bikes were stolen in 2017.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to get bike insurance in Germany if you buy a bike. Luckily, bike insurance isn’t very expensive. You can buy bike insurance for as little as 1€ per month.
Click here for information on bike insurance in Germany.
Bus & Tram
Almost every town in Germany has a bus system. You’ll also find that some places have trams. The advantage using trams over buses is that trams travel on tracks, rather than on the same road as cars. Therefore, road traffic doesn’t slow down trams.
S-Bahn & U-Bahn
The S-Bahn is connected to the national railroad system, known as the Deutsche Bahn (DB). On the other hand, the U-Bahn is part of the city’s communal transportation system.
The S-Bahn runs further outside the city than the U-Bahn. For example, you can get to the city’s suburbs using the S-Bahn. The U-Bahn mostly just runs within the city and is underground. The S-Bahn might be underground when you’re near the city center, but runs above ground once you’re outside the city limits.
Since the S-Bahn is part of the national railroad system, you can ride on the S-Bahn if you have a Eurail pass without purchasing any additional tickets.
Taxis are much more expensive than the public transportation system in Germany. Sometimes taxis are even slower than public transportation because of traffic. Taxis are metered and start with a base rate. From the base rate, the price increases depending on how far you travel and the time spent in the taxi. In some cities, you have to negotiate the price of the taxi in advance for any distances further than 50 km.
If you have a smartphone, you can download the Mytaxi app. Through the app, you can order a taxi in most German cities.
Due to German regulations, the UberPop ride (something that many Americans are accustomed to) isn’t available in Germany. As of October 2015, Uber only offers UberX and UberBLACK in Germany. Laws, however, are always changing and depend on the city you’re in. You can find out the specifics of what Uber services are available where you’re at through the Uber app.
Ride-sharing is another common way to travel in Germany, especially in cities. It’s an alternative to owning your own car or scooter, or renting a car for an entire day.
Many companies offer ride-sharing services. For example, DriveNow is a car-sharing service in Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Munich. Car2go is also in these cities, as well as Frankfurt and Stuttgart. There are also scooter-sharing services, such as Emmy in Munich.
All of the car/scooter-sharing services function more or less under the same business model, but I’ll use DriveNow as an example.
Here’s how it works: The whole system is run through DriveNow’s app. The app has a map that shows you where available cars are parked in the city. You choose a nearby car and rent it through the app. You pay per minute, and the insurance, fuel and parking fee is included.
DriveNow has free floating car-sharing. This means that you can rent the car in one location and park it at a different location. There is a zone you have to stay within, but normally it’s pretty large. You can usually leave the car parked at your house, office or even the airport.
If you already have a car in Germany, or you’re looking to buy one, you’ll need German car insurance. Our article, “Car Insurance In Germany: What You Need To Know,” has a lot of helpful information.
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