Local public transport in Germany is indispensable, in particular in conurbations. Source: Colourbox / 14058143

Well-connected by public transport

Local public transport

Living in the countryside, working in the city centre, leaving the car at home: a dream for many. Local public transport has an important function to perform in linking rural areas to urban centres and in ensuring mobility in the countryside. In conurbations, local public transport is indispensable for our daily mobility. In order to ensure that you continue to receive a high-quality range of public transport services, the Federal Government is supporting the federal states and local authorities in financing these services and is promoting numerous innovative developments.

Significance of local public transport

Societal significance

Local public transport is very important for getting from A to B in a flexible manner in your everyday life. Each day, more than 30 million passengers use local public transport. For them, the attractiveness of buses and trains not only depends on the degree of comfort they offer. The link quality and the convenience of getting timetable information and buying tickets are also particularly important to passengers. Public transport in Germany guarantees mobility and ensures independence from one’s own car and from car-sharing schemes. The quality of local public transport affects our decisions on where we work, where we live and where we shop. It contributes to improved road safety, a better environment and affordable mobility – and thus has a positive impact on our quality of life.

Especially against the background of the demographic development, the necessity of high-quality and user-friendly public local transport becomes evident. According to the latest study on mobility in Germany, at least about 17 percent of the population in rural regions only rarely or never use a passenger car. This figure includes particularly older people.


Mobility opportunities are a key element of social participation and thus personal, social and professional development of every individual. This particularly holds true for people with disabilities or mobility constraints. Many disabled persons without their own passenger car rely on public transport. Trains, buses and coaches as well as tramcars, are essential for their participation in public life.

Therefore, the transport sector plays a vital role in the Act on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons (BGG) and Amending Other Acts. Within the narrow scope of responsibilities of the Federal Government, the BGG amended significant acts in the field of local public transport, rail and air transport. As such,

  • the Act on Federal Government Financial Aid to Improve Transport at the Local Authority Level,
  • the Carriage of Passengers Act,
  • the Construction and Operation of Railways Regulations,
  • the Civil Aviation Act,
  • and the Federal Trunk Roads Act

include different rules that aim at ensuring the greatest accessibility possible. The participation rights of disabled persons were strengthened. For the Federal Government, the principle of accessibility means more quality for all users. Older people, as well as children and people with buggies or heavy luggage usually encounter the same access barriers as disabled persons. Accessibility therefore is an important quality seal in local public transport. Developments in recent years as well as our ageing society underline that today, ensuring the greatest possible accessibility is a necessary element of transport policy.

Ecological significance

Increasing congestion on the roads as well as noise and air pollution by cars are getting on our nerves and stressing us every day. Compared with private motorized transport, the advantages of local public transport are obvious: considerably more people can ride in a single vehicle, and less surface needs to be asphalted. Moreover, specific energy consumption and pollutant emissions per passenger are much lower than with private motorized transport. Well-developed local public transport is an attractive and environmentally sound alternative to many journeys that are otherwise often made by car. In purely mathematical terms, the 30 million passengers using local public transport avoid about 20 million passenger car rides every day.

Energy efficiency

Local public transport is an energy-efficient and climate-friendly mode of transport. For the transport sector to reach its own goals and to appropriately contribute to achieving the climate change goals of the Federal Government, even local public transport needs to further increase its energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A study commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport looked into different options for achieving this goal and assessed a standardised way of determining greenhouse gas emissions of local public transport.

Economic importance

Local public transport is also of substantial economic importance. It helps millions of commuters get to their destinations every day without congestion – and thus without requiring additional time or energy. What is more, transport operators and integrated transport authorities are an important employment factor. In Germany, there are approximately 75 integrated transport authorities; the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV) alone comprises about 450 local public transport companies. Calculations indicate that just under 400,000 permanently secure jobs result directly or indirectly from local public transport services.

Among other things, the Federal Government provides financial assistance for the construction of central and modern bus and coach terminals. Source: Fotolia / Jürgen Fälchle

Financing of local public transport

Federal Government invests record sums

Anyone who takes the metro or bus buys a ticket. The revenues from the ticket sales, however, are not sufficient for the operation of local public transport to break even. Actually, a little less than half of the funds spent on local public transport in Germany stem from the money you pay for tickets. For this reason, the public sector contributes to the funding. The federal states and local authorities are primarily responsible for planning, organizing and funding urban and regional transport. However, the Federal Government is currently providing a total of more than nine billion euros to the federal states so that they can continue to ensure an attractive range of public transport services. Federal Government funding particularly benefits local passenger rail services, that is rapid transit, local trains, regional trains and regional express trains. With its funding, the Federal Government also helps to ensure high-quality local public transport throughout Germany.

  • Even though it is in the responsibility of the federal states, in 2019, they will receive state subsidies from the government’s revenue of taxes, amounting to 8.6 billion euros, to finance local public transport and local passenger rail services. State subsidies for local and regional passenger rail services will be increased by 1.8 % annually until 2031.
  • In addition, the federal states will receive compensation payments from the federal budget to improve transport in the municipalities, amounting to about 1.336 billion euros annually (until the end of 2019) under the Unbundling Act and another 332.6 million euros annually under the “Federal Programme”, in accordance with Section 6(1) of the Act on Federal Government Financial Aid to Improve Transport at the Local Authority Level. In accordance with the Coalition Agreement, the Federal Programme is to be increased to one billion euros annually until 2021.
  • In addition, the Federal Government is financing local public transport through tax breaks (e.g. value added tax reductions) as well as compensation payments (e.g. for the carriage of disabled persons with severe walking difficulties)

Financing innovation

The Federal Government is also funding innovative developments in local public transport. In the context of the “2017-2020 Immediate Action Programme for Clean Air”, for instance, it is also funding projects that local transport operators benefit from. This funding is focused, among other things, on purchasing electric vehicles, digitalising local public transport as well as retrofitting diesel buses with exhaust gas after treatment systems.

In addition, the Federal Government is funding innovative transport projects in model cities. Together with the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport will have provided about 130 million euros for this cause by 2020. In Bonn, Essen, Herrenberg, Mannheim and Reutlingen, the five model cities, model projects are being implemented that improve local public transport and reduce the nitrogen dioxide load. The measures include, for instance, expanding local public transport services, reducing ticket fees, enhancing traffic management and building new cycle tracks. The model projects are being scientifically monitored and evaluated with regard to the NO2 reduction potential.

With e-ticketing, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is promoting cashless payment for bus and train journeys. Source: Fotolia / weedezign

Initiative for digital connectivity in public transport

Obtain information. Book. Pay. Travel.

People want to travel freely from A to B by public transport. Due to the federal structure of Germany, local public transport, in particular, is structured along regional lines and thus differs from federal state to federal state and from city to city. For this reason, you often reach the limits of integrated transport authorities, and also your own limits: seamless timetable information and tickets are still scarce. Passengers, however, wish for easier access to a mix of different transport services. To improve the interconnection of these services across the borders of federal states and of areas covered by integrated transport authorities, the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport has launched an initiative for digital connectivity in public transport. The adoption of a roadmap outlining the action required, the necessary steps and the corresponding responsibilities for digitally interconnected local public transport was an initial milestone. The funds provided to date by the Federal Government, have made a major contribution to creating important foundations for nationwide information and ticketing systems.