The Gradual Death of the Semester Ticket

A Commentary by Gabriel Tiedje

Gabriel Tiedje is a university political advisor at the AStA TU Berlin and has been working on the semester ticket issue for several years. Together with the State Students’ Union Conference, he helped ensure that the State of Berlin paid a mobility subsidy of 75 euros to every student in Berlin for the summer semester.

Following the announcement of the Germany-wide ticket, student bodies across Germany faced a pressing question: What does the Germany-wide ticket mean for semester tickets? Thousands of hours, mostly voluntary, were spent securing the benefits of the Germany-wide ticket for students. Surprisingly, at the end of November, it was announced that the Germany-wide ticket would become the semester ticket starting in the spring.


This set off a flurry of activity in student bodies, as a finalized and legally secure contract is still not available in Berlin. Although it might seem like a happy ending, the opposite is true. This nationwide semester ticket is not a relief act for students. The Transport Ministers’ Conference merely found that if semester tickets were discontinued due to legal uncertainties, transport associations would lose 60-200 million euros in revenue compared to having a Germany-wide ticket as the semester ticket. Now, transport associations are being urged to quickly introduce a Germany-wide ticket as the semester ticket to prevent revenue loss, revealing the government’s attitude towards students in general and the semester ticket in particular.


In Berlin, the semester ticket used to be about 30 euros cheaper than a Berlin AB monthly ticket on an annual subscription. Even though there were arguments over a few euros more or less, the approximate scale of savings the semester ticket model provided to the transport associations was around 30 euros. Compared to the scope of the Berlin ABC + bicycle ticket, the savings were even higher. Even compared to the freely available trainee ticket without further subsidies, students paid only half. The saving effect compared to a freely available ticket was enormous, the obligation to purchase the ticket was bearable, and the social safety mechanisms in the solidarity model could financially support those students who could not afford it.


The semester ticket not only resulted in significant savings for students but also secured income for transport companies. In 2021, students contributed three times more to the revenue of BVG per student than the average Berliner. Collective responsibility paid off for all involved. However, the decision of the Transport Ministers’ Conference has called all this into question.


After legal opinions postulated that a semester ticket up to 60% of the comparable ticket would be fine, these 60% were set in stone. €29.40, 60% of the Germany-wide ticket. There’s no longer any room for negotiation, and the Damocles sword of the Germany-wide ticket’s price increase will drive the price up in the coming years. The subsidies for the Germany-wide ticket save individuals who buy their ticket 20 to 50 euros per month, depending on whether they previously had only an AB subscription or an ABC subscription, and includes the whole of Germany. Students get a saving effect of a mere 3 euros through the Germany-wide semester ticket.


Economic relief for everyone except students. More disdain for the collective responsibility undertaken by student bodies cannot be expressed. Yet, student bodies will now have to sign the contracts – whatever they contain – because, of course, €29.40 is cheaper than €49 per month. What will disappear is negotiation. We had already publicly criticized in recent years that these negotiations were not really taking place, and now it’s set in stone. The lesson can only be that collective responsibility is not rewarded and recognized but forgotten in the distribution of subsidies. Whether this will eliminate legal uncertainties is also uncertain, but one thing is clear: The semester ticket concept has already been buried. The price is fixed, and only politics can adjust the price through further subsidies.


Instead of choosing the successful solidarity models at universities in Germany, a lot of tax money is being pumped into the system for individual tickets. Despite their models being so successful, students won’t see a cent of it. Instead, they are only seen as a stability support. Speaking of successful models, the Transport Ministers’ Conference decision also states that existing semester tickets should now be made available subordinately and the Germany-wide Semester Ticket should be the primary model. In many places in Germany, this means the costs borne by students will even increase.