How Erlangen came to free public transport
In July 2023, the media across Germany reported on the introduction of "free local transport" in Erlangen. On 29 June, the city council unanimously decided that all 20 bus routes at 14 stops in the city center could be used without a ticket. A similar model was already introduced in Augsburg at the beginning of 2020, where nine city center stops are part of the free "city zone".
The intentions behind the plans are the same: to make local transport in the city center more attractive in order to reduce motorized private transport there. The mayor of Erlangen, Florian Janik, explains in the city newspaper : "We want to make bus travel in the city center as easy and convenient as possible." Ultimately, this should also benefit the retail sector. In Erlangen, the northern part of the old town is a particular focus. The city wants to encourage people to switch from car to bus - because Erlangen has a large parking lot with a highway connection right next to the train station. The city center is on the other side of the railroad line.
From the action alliance to politics
The "Erlangen Traffic Concept" campaign alliance, a coalition of transport and residents' associations, was also concerned with the city center. In October 2017, they submitted a proposal to city politicians for a new battery bus route to supplement public transport in the city center. The aim: better living conditions in the city center and better connections to the large parking lot and the university hospital on the other side of the city center.
At the beginning of 2019, the relevant city committees decided to pursue the plan further and commissioned Stadtwerke (ESTW) with the planning. They developed a concept with two line variants, the first of which was called the "KlinikLinie" and the second the "CityLinie". The city of Erlangen was to bear the costs of the project, and the hospital's participation was discussed. At the same time, funding applications were submitted.
In June 2020, the plan was approved by the city council, initially as a one-year trial operation at 10-minute intervals. On January 18, 2021, the new line 299 ran through Erlangen for the first time, initially with conventional minibuses. The campaign alliance was satisfied: "We are delighted that part of our idea has now been implemented almost 1:1 with the 'clinic line'," it wrote in a press release. Initially, however, the response was muted: In the media, it is referred to as a ghost line because it often runs empty through the city away from shift changes. However, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the low number of 250 passengers per day was not considered particularly significant.
From trial operation to pilot project
Those responsible therefore decided in favor of the project again and extended the duration of the project by another year. However, the line should be better advertised - and be free to use. To this end, a free short-distance fare was introduced for the hospital line at the start of 2022. According to the principle of equal treatment in the transport association, the free fare must also apply to the other lines in the area, and so the path to the free inner city zone was already decided in July 2021. However, implementation was delayed because a lot had to be agreed. A year later, the city council decided to introduce free transport for the 2023 timetable change at the earliest. In the same resolution, the council approved the next stage of the route concept, although the battery buses were still delayed due to delivery problems. In the final vote, again a year later, the project received a great deal of attention. Erlangen will introduce free local transport as a ticketless city zone for everyone, similar to Augsburg or the free streetcar line in the city center of Neuss. In contrast, in Monheim am Rhein, public transport is only free for citizens.
The conversion of the hospital line 299 to the city line 299 in ring operation received little national attention. On December 10, the ESTW started operating the seven battery-electric midi buses that had arrived in the meantime. The free service has been in place since the beginning of 2024, initially for three years and will be evaluated on an ongoing basis. The city will bear the additional costs until then.