Deutsche Bahn: The Great Train Ticket Robbery


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A friend in Germany had to jump on a regional train at the last minute after missing an earlier one. It was very early in the morning on a cold, dirty, unfriendly station in Wuppertal. He has a Deutsche Bahn Card (regular customer discount card) so he thought he could buy a ticket on the short journey to Köln. Boy, what a mistake that was. And a costly one too.

Shortly after leaving Wuppertal he was asked by the conductor for his ticket. He showed the conductor his Deutsche Bahn Card and asked to buy a ticket to Köln. Without batting an eyelid the conductor accused him of being a ‘free rider’ and demanded to see his identity card. The conductor took down his details and gave him a Euro40 fine for not having a ticket. He protested his innocence but the conductor simply wasn’t interested. Rules are rules and the Deutsche Bahn makes them up for its own benefit.

A quick check later showed that this isn’t an isolated instance. The Deutsche Bahn happily fines thousands of people every day for not having a ticket, or for having the wrong ticket. It doesn’t matter if the ticket machine at the station is broken. It doesn’t matter if the machine won’t accept your money. It doesn’t matter if the machine won’t sell you the ticket you require. It doesn’t matter if you only have seconds to catch the last train home. You are a free rider. An enemy of the Deutsche Bahn. To be punished. Kerching. That will be Euro40 please.

It hasn’t escaped the notice of the press in Germany that this is highly profitable for the Deutsche Bahn. They save money by taking ticket machines out of trains. They save money by making it difficult to buy a ticket at the station. They save money by not allowing you to buy a ticket on the train. And of course they make a lot of money, a heck of a lot of money, by punishing innocent passengers for falling into the ‘great train ticket robbery’.

So next time you take a regional train ride in Germany, I suggest you read up on Deutsch Bahn bye-laws, purchase your ticket the day before and smile meekly at the conductor. Just in case you made a mistake and are labelled a free rider. It won’t help of course. The Deutsch Bahn is only interested in your money. Better still, hire a car, or take a taxi. It might even save you some money.

What do you think? Is the Deutsche Bahn cashing in on its own unwillingness to provide service to its customers? Or is this acceptable for a monopoly rail service (sic) keen to be privatised?

Post a comment or email me at graham(dot)hill(at)web(dot)de to get the polemical conversation going.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

Further Reading:

I couldn’t find anything on the Deutsche Bahn website. But there is plenty of amazingly similar examples in the German press (in German).

SWR, ‘Loyal Customer Labelled as Free Rider’

WDR2, Railway: ‘Tips for Unwitting Free Riders’

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. …. to make the customer’s voice understood and the initiator for change. Let’s talk together and build a TRIBE;-)

    Cheers, Ralf


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