Those were the days: You went to the ticket counter at the train station shortly before the train left, told the railway official where you wanted to go and what class of carriage, paid - usually - in cash and went onto the platform. The officer wasn't interested in who you were and certainly not what your phone number or email address was. It is expected that from October 2023, Deutsche Bahn will only sell long-distance tickets if you provide contact details. But there remains one last loophole: the machines.
The planned regulation will initially only affect the so-called savings tickets. It should still be possible to purchase “anonymously” at full price. Naturally, the project by Germany's largest railway operator is not well received by consumer advocates. The question is very clear: Why does the DB suddenly want to have the travelers' contact details for cheap tickets, even if they are purchased at the counter? This wasn't necessary for decades.
The Federal Association of Consumer Organizations fears that there could be completely different interests behind the “digitalization requirement”. A spokeswoman told Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, among others, that the DB's planned regulation, which is expected to apply from October 2023, would make no sense at all for counter sales. It's been a long time since you can buy "anonymous tickets" for long-distance transport on the Internet or via the app. There is at least the assumption that the DB could also use the data for advertising purposes, for example to deliver “special offers” by email and/or SMS.
Consumer advocates ask themselves “what’s the point?”
However, consumer advocates also assume that there could be longer waiting times at the ticket counters simply because dictating your cell phone number and/or email address could take a long time. At certain points, ticket sellers would also have to prepare for discussions with passengers. Quite a few people consciously buy their tickets at machines or at the counter so that - in contrast to online sales - they do not have to reveal any personal data.
And there is another group of customers who could literally be excluded from the cheap tickets: people, often older people, who simply have neither a cell phone number nor an email address. It's no secret that older students in particular really value the personal advice at the counter. Even younger people, even from the smartphone generation, are often willing to pay an extra charge for personal advice from a railway employee, because it is not so easy to keep track of the jungle of tariffs. Especially when it comes to tickets abroad, many people seem to have much more trust in a real rail employee than in apps and homepages.
The DB is surprised at the criticism of the planned obligation to provide contact details when purchasing savings tickets. It is pointed out that full-price tickets (“flex price”) would not be affected at all and that these will be available as an alternative. But people at the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations don't really trust this "roast" because they point out that the flex price would usually be more expensive and they also fear that sooner or later personal data would be requested here too.
Vending machines as a “loophole” for an indefinite period of time
As of October 1, 2023, Deutsche Bahn AG wants to convert all saver tickets for long-distance transport that are sold at counters or through agencies (e.g. travel agencies) to so-called online tickets. The tickets should then no longer be issued on paper, but rather via email and/or SMS to the customer. So similar to what has been done in internet sales so far. This is expected to benefit the customer, but this is questioned by the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations.
Anyone who wants to buy “anonymous” savings tickets from the DB from October 1, 2023 still has a way out for an indefinite period of time: the new regulation will not yet apply to the machines at the moment, because the software of the devices needs to be adapted. This can take a lot of time and until this change is completed, you will still receive saver tickets for long-distance transport without providing your personal contact details. If you pay with cash instead of debit or credit cards, you will still have a completely anonymous ticket. How long this “alternative route” will work is unclear. Especially for the group of customers who deliberately go to the counter because the machines or the homepage are perceived as too complicated or because they simply value personal advice, they are only likely to benefit marginally from this “loophole”.