Berlin boasts quite a spiffing public transport system. It’s run by the yellow BVG, and using it is easy enough. However, visits from friends and family have taught me about a number of frequent pitfalls for the occasional rider.
Public transport here is made up of the U-Bahn (underground), S-Bahn (suburban trains), and trams and buses.
The most important rule to observe: always stamp your ticket (including the visitor tickets mentioned below), unless you buy one from machines on the tram, where it comes pre-stamped with the date and time. The stamping machines are red boxes on train platforms and yellow boxes on trams and buses. Unstamped tickets will be considered invalid! The BVG is doing its best to catch fare-dodgers in the act and doesn’t make any concessions to tourists not familiar with the stamping concept.
Which ticket? There are three zones. Zones A and B cover almost all of Berlin and the suburbs. Zone C is further out in Brandenburg and only interesting if you wish to go to Potsdam, for instance. All prices given here are for Zone AB. An extension ticket (“Anschlussfahrausweis”) allows you to continue into Zone C with an AB ticket for one trip.
1) The single ticket: Valid for two hours for one trip in one direction in Zone AB. Price: €2.60. Changing and stop-overs allowed, but no round or return trips. Also available as a carnet of four tickets, saving you 40 cents per trip.
2) The short-trip fare: Valid for five stops in one direction on trams and buses, or for three stops on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn. Price: €1.50
3) Day ticket: Valid for one day until 3 a.m. the next day. Price: €6.70
4) Small group ticket. A day ticket for groups of up to five people. Price: €16.20
5) The 7-day ticket: Valid for seven days starting from the day (not time!) of validation. Has the extra perk of allowing free travel for one other adult and up to three kids aged 6 to 14 on weekdays after 8 p.m. and all day on weekends. Price: €28.80.
Tourist tickets. One feature that makes the BVG homepage most useful for visitors is the option to buy your tickets before you arrive and print them out at home so you are ready-set-go on arrival. There are two options: the WelcomeCard and the CityTourCard. Both include unlimited travel as well as reduced entry to museums and other attractions. They are available for 48 hours, 72 hours or five days. When purchasing them online, you can set their validity to start from the moment of your arrival so you get the most out of them. Remember to take your photo ID with you, as the home-printed tickets are made out in your name. Also available via the BVG app (see below). https://shop.bvg.de/
Both tourist cards are of course also available at BVG and S-Bahn ticket counters, and come with a handy flyer.
Finding your way. The BVG homepage has a nifty journey planer right on the start page. Type in your starting point and destination, choose a departure or arrival time, and it’ll tell you how to get there.
Where to buy? All regular tickets can be bought at ticket machines in U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, on trams and from bus drivers. German debit (EC) cards are accepted but credit cards are not, and debit cards from outside Germany might not work in the machines. The best thing to do is to have some cash handy. All ticket machines can be operated in languages other than German, which can’t always be said for the staff at ticket counters. The machines offer the bonus of also selling tickets to main tourist attractions, providing network information and topping up pay-as-you-go mobile phones. Machines on trams only offer the basic services and no tourist offers.
The app. Thank goodness the Berlin transport authority isn’t stuck in the age of paper and ink and has catapulted itself into cyberspace with an app. “FahrInfo Plus” runs on Android and iOS. It is available from the usual stores and via QR code here: http://www.bvg.de/index.php/de/3711/name/Jederzeit+mobil.html
The app lets you buy tickets type 1 – 4 mentioned above (again, have your photo ID with you and make the purchase before you board the train; payment works either by Direct Debit or credit card). You can also download timetables, save your favourite connections, see the stops on a map and even reserve a car (via car sharing service car2go) to drive to places where the BVG doesn’t go.
Mobil phone users not wanting to bother with the app can access all travel information via http://mobil.BVG.de. They will still have to get hold of their ticket the old-fashioned way, though.
All information valid as of July 2014. I tried my very best but cannot assume responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided in this article. Enjoy Berlin!
Text: Katja Bechmann – perforante.de / firstname.lastname@example.org