On the Move (2018 | Issue 1)

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Public Transportation in Germany

Public transport in Germany is extensive, well integrated and punctual. You could be living anywhere in the country and still be able to travel comfortably without having to hire a cab. The major cities are served by the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Straßenbahn and bus networks. And everywhere you go, there are cycle tracks for the sporty! What’s Up, Germany? gives you an overview of Germany’s public transport.

The rail network throughout Germany provides excellent service. It extends to around 43,468 kilometres of track, of which nearly 20,000 kilometres is electrified. The publicly-owned Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) is the biggest rail operator in the country. Running at 300 km/h, its high-speed train, the InterCity Express (ICE), connects all major German cities and neighbouring countries.

S-Bahn & U-Bahn

Almost all metros have suburban rail systems called S-Bahn. They are the most local type of railway, stopping at all stations and running more frequently than other trains. The U-Bahn, on the other hand, is a rapid transit underground system. Having said that, the distinction between the S-Bahn and U-Bahn does get blurred, with the S-Bahn also running underground in city centres and above ground in suburbs.


Many German cities did away with the Straßenbahn or tram system in the 1960s and 1970s. The tram networks that remained were mostly upgraded to the Stadtbahn (light rail). Berlin has one of the longest tram networks in the world. The interesting thing is, trams are now getting a new lease of life in other cities across Germany.


Intercity bus service fell out of favour when a legislation was passed in the 1980s to protect the national railway. But once the sector was deregulated in 2013, intercity bus services boomed. Smart mobility provider FlixBus currently has the largest share of the pie. Its green bus fleet with an e-ticketing system has even expanded into Europe and is said to be eyeing the US market now!


With a view to curb traffic congestion, many cities in Germany have dedicated cycle lanes. You’d be amazed to know that, in total, there are 200 cycling routes covering more than 70,000 kilometres! In Berlin especially, cycling is a popular mode of transport, be it for commuting, pleasure or sport. The city of Freiburg in Baden-Württemberg has designated car-free streets where pedestrians and cyclists have a field day. Only 16 percent of the population owns cars. And that’s not all! Freiburg is a clean energy role model: It can run solely on solar energy. Talk about cool!

A major trend in Germany is that the young want to be mobile, and cars seem to be a burden. Their reasoning is quite sound: They only need a car for a few hours, so they don’t want to own one and taxis are too costly. A rather cool option is to use an app to find a car. Once users become members, they can locate the nearest vehicle and simply drive away. On reaching their destination, they park the car and walk off! Members only pay for how long the car was used. Fuel, parking and insurance are taken care of. How convenient is that!

New vehicle registrations have been on the decline in Germany since the past 20 years. According to Fraunhofer Institute, Germany’s leading research organisation, the number of cars will half by 2050. In response to this reality, even auto manufacturers are catering to the car-sharing market. Today, there are around 140 car-sharing services in Germany. Flinkster, car2go and DriveNow are really popular.

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“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for
people and places, you get people and places.”
— Fred Kent, founder, Project for Public Spaces