Germany: Why fare evasion is a crime

Podcast “important today”
A relic from the Nazi era: Going to prison for fare evasion

A ticket machine is located at a subway stop in Stuttgart-Sillenbuch

© Bernd Weißbrod / DPA

7,700 people have to be imprisoned in Germany every year because they drove illegally. Most of them because they were too poor to buy a ticket – let alone pay the subsequent fine. And there is hardly any change in sight.

Robbery, tax evasion, manslaughter… crimes like these are what you think of when you think of a prison sentence. But according to projections, there are also around 7,700 people who have to be arrested for fare evasion every year because they sat on the bus or train without a ticket. “Footballing, or rather, ‘cheating on services’, has been a criminal offense in Germany since 1935. It goes back to a criminal law amendment by the Nazis,” explains starEditor Nico Schnurr in the 470th episode of the podcast “important today”. Since then, no government has abolished paragraph 265a, which particularly often affects people in poverty – and whose situation is often significantly worsened by imprisonment.

7,700 people in Germany are imprisoned every year for fare evasion

Heiko Fischer was one of these 7700 people. He is 46 years old and had to spend a year and four months in prison himself because he rode the train without a ticket and was caught several times: “I had to go to the doctor every day, I wasn’t able to buy the ticket. Three to four times I was caught doing fare evasion and then ended up in prison,” he reports in the podcast. Fischer was a drug addict and therefore could not get the money for a ticket together.

The majority of people who end up in prison for this crime are like him. He explains that starEditor Nico Schnurr, who researched this topic: “A study from North Rhine-Westphalia shows: 77 percent of them are unemployed. One in four is addicted to drugs, one in five is homeless and one in six is ​​suicidal.” What is considered an administrative offense in other countries means that poor people in particular have an even harder time in Germany. For example, anyone who cannot afford to pay the fine – the so-called substitute imprisonment – ​​or who already has a criminal record and is caught must be imprisoned.

The 49-euro ticket is more expensive than the basic income standard rate for “traffic”

Nico Schnurr spoke to many of those affected. Most of them would like to pay for the train tickets but simply cannot afford it. For example, anyone who receives citizen’s income gets a standard rate of currently 45.02 euros per month for the “transport” area. Conversely, this means that even the currently planned 49-euro ticket is too expensive for the people who need it particularly urgently. An end to the paragraph is only partially in sight, says Schnurr: “The federal government has at least announced that this year it will think about checking to what extent fare evasion should still be a criminal offense.”

Sweden does it better

An alternative model could be the legislation in Sweden. In the event of repeated violations, an authority there checks whether the people caught are not willing to pay or are actually not able to pay, explains Nico Schnurr: “If someone really doesn’t have the money to pay for a ticket like this, they won’t be pursued any further. They have to Those affected do not have to prove themselves, but an office.” On the other hand, in Sweden only about 20 people are imprisoned for fare evasion every year, in contrast to the 7,700 in Germany. “That saves the Swedes a lot of money, which could also be used here to set up socially fairer public transport that is affordable and available for everyone,” said Schnurr.

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