Around 15 percent of previous subscription customers canceled their tickets for buses and trains with BSAG. (Frank Thomas Koch)
Lockdown, curfew, home office and FFP2 mask requirement make public transport a problem. The buses and trains are fuller than when they were first locked down last spring. According to Bremer Straßenbahn AG (BSAG), the utilization of the vehicles is still low. Compared to the pre-pandemic period, around 60 to 70 percent of passengers use the offer. This is also noticeable with regular customers: According to BSAG, around 15 percent of previous subscription customers canceled their tickets. These declines also correspond to the figures of the Bremen / Lower Saxony transport association (VBN) and the national trend and are accompanied by financial losses worth millions.
Since the renewed contact restrictions in November, the churn of regular customers has accelerated. While the VBN recorded a total of 87,500 Mia and Jobticket season ticket holders before the pandemic at the beginning of 2020, the number fell to 74,000 subscribers at the beginning of 2021 – a loss of 13,500 customers. “These are bitter numbers and really tough,” says VBN spokesman Eckhard Spliethoff. He cannot yet quantify what that means financially. Depending on the tier and tariff area, the prices vary between 56 and 215 euros. The annual losses are in the millions. The VBN includes more than 30 transport companies, including BSAG and Bremerhaven Bus und Verkehr und Wasser GmbH (VWG) from Oldenburg as the largest companies. The BSAG has the highest proportion of season ticket holders in the VBN with a total of around 51,000 billion customers.
It is difficult to determine the average revenue of a subscription customer, says BSAG spokesman Andreas Holling. The income is distributed to Bremen and Lower Saxony, depending on the ticket and tariff zone. More details can only be said with the annual financial statements for 2020, which VBN and BSAG are currently working on. The balance sheet should be published by the end of May. As a result of the pandemic, the deficit at BSAG could amount to more than 25 million euros, in the worst case to more than 30 million euros.
The BSAG is trying to win back the lost customers. “We are currently working on appropriate offers for this,” says Holling. For example, a ten-day ticket was introduced in and around Stuttgart. Those who work sometimes at home and sometimes in the office can use the tickets one by one. Deutsche Bahn has also introduced a ten-day ticket for local transport.
Since the end of April, the Federal Infection Protection Act has stipulated that a maximum of half of the regular permitted number of passengers should travel in local public transport. “We are generally below this standard in Bremen,” says Holling. He mentions the Northern Lights tram as an example. This has around 100 seats and 150 standing places. With 125 passengers, 50 percent load would be achieved. “However, we only calculate the number of seats, which means that we remain below the target value,” says Holling. If buses and trains are still full, the transport company adjusts and let more vehicles drive. That does not change anything in the subjective perception of some citizens.
In the first lockdown in March and April 2020, the number of passengers dropped to 30 percent, says Holling. BSAG reacted to this. Initially, the timetable was adjusted – the frequency was reduced to that of the weekend days. Despite the lower number of passengers, BSAG has refrained from doing this again. The starting point is constantly changing: open or closed schools, “Click and Collect” offers, home office and, recently, the curfew. “We are trying to react as best as possible to the dynamic changes,” says the BSAG spokesman. Because the schools are allowed to reopen, this also has an impact on the volume of public transport vehicles. “We’ll take a closer look at that,” says Holling. The same goes for the night lines. For now, the lines should continue to operate normally despite the curfew. The transport company in Hanover will suspend night traffic on weekends until May 9th.
According to Transport Senator Maike Schaefer (Greens), transport companies in Germany recorded losses of around 3.3 billion euros last year. So far, the federal and state governments have pledged five billion euros in support. The federal states have called for the “rescue package” to be extended and increased by one billion euros.