One door boarding in Berlin

Buses are my least favorite form of public transportation (Sascha, on the other hand, loves them). It's not that I hate them, but I just prefer the comfortable tram, or the fast metro. However, buses are here to stay, because they are improving all the time, and if you plan them correctly, you can "metronize them". Therefore, it still comes as shock to me every time I arrive to a new city, and see that the transportation agency still requires people to board at the front door.

One door boarding is ridiculous!

In Berlin they call it Vordereinstiegs (front boarding). BVG, Berlin's transport agency, explains in German at their website that passengers should board at the front, because that's how the bus drivers can be sure that the passengers have valid tickets. They also claim that a trial in Spandau (a big district in Berlin) showed that the number of fare dodgers decreased once passengers where required to go through the front door, and hence required to show the driver their ticket.

I lived in Berlin for almost a year, and used the bus daily. In particular I used the M41, a high frequent double-articulated bus that drives through Sonnenallee, a main long street in Neukölln district. I would like to respond to BVG's claims:

  1. As I said, I used the bus everyday. At the beginning I entered the bus through the front door and showed my ticket to the driver. At one point I realized that the bus drivers just don't care. If I would board and only then look for my ticket, the bus driver would just tell me "that's fine, go in". They don't even look at you, and if you tell them "Guten Tag" nice enough, you can even show them a recipe from the supermarket instead of a real ticket. I have used the buses in Berlin hundreds of times, and only once a saintly driver actually looked at my ticket and checked that it's valid. I told him that he was the first one to check if I have a valid ticket .He told me that he gets that a lot.
  2. People are not stupid, and once they realized that the bus drivers don't care, they board anyway from all doors. It reminds me of the concept of desire paths. People tend to take the easily navigated route between the origin (sidewalk) and destination (bus).
  3. Neukölln is pretty poor, and 40% of its inhabitants are of non-German ethnicity. Its crime rate is not the highest in Berlin, but it has robbery and drug problems. True, the district is rapidly gentrifying, but if I would have to guess, I would say that one can find many fare dodgers on the M41.
    Once two ticket controllers entered the M41. The bus was full with 60 people and I actually had the chance to count how many "black riders" were on board (In German, a fare dodger is called "Schwarzfahrer", which literally means "black rider"). The results? None. Even not one fare dodger. I know, it was just one time, and I've already seen many people getting caught in the metros and trains without a ticket. But it just shows that even though many people board from other doors, it doesn't necessarily mean that there are more fare dodgers on buses.
De facto all door boarding in Berlin (picture: Lior Steinbeg)

De facto all door boarding in Berlin (picture: Lior Steinbeg)

Since BVG’s policy is to board at the front door, they don't need to send ticket controllers into buses. But in reality, the bus operates as an all-door boarding vehicle, lacking almost any control. Fare dodgers can easily ride the bus, without being afraid that a controller will show up. So BVG's policy is leading to decreased ticket control, and hence more fare evasion.

Written by Lior Steinberg. Follow him on Twitter and .