Public Transit Pub: Will Alcohol Bans Stop Party Trains?

Bans are being blocked by other providers who don't want to bear the costs.

ByABC News
April 25, 2012, 6:50 PM

April 29, 2012— -- Public transport in Berlin and other German cities is often the site of spontaneous parties on the weekend, but not all passengers want to share the ride with beer-swilling drunks. Now, many cities want to impose alcohol bans on mass transit -- but their efforts are being blocked by Deutsche Bahn and other providers who don't want to bear the costs.

It's crowded and loud -- and there's a whole lot of booze. On weekend nights, Berlin's M10 streetcar line morphs into the party tram.

Beer, wine and vodka make the rounds through the tram while passengers smooch, smoke, sing and dance. It reeks of Red Bull and barf. The line ferries passengers to and from popular clubs, such as Berghain and Watergate, which lie at the eastern end of the line in Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district.

Until recently, there had hardly been any complaints about this disco on rails. But now there is growing resistance to such public-transportation partying. For example, the German Police Union (DPolG) recently complained that "bellowing and shouting" turn the journey into a "horror trip" for the other passengers. Now, transportation companies and academic experts will be meeting at a symposium in the eastern city of Dresden on Thursday and Friday to discuss the heightened need for passenger safety.

Transportation associations and the DStGB, an association of German cities and municipalities, are calling on lawmakers to act. They would like to see drinking outlawed on all local mass-transit systems, as it has been for some months in Hamburg and Munich, Germany's second- and third-largest cities.

"The quality of the experience in the local public transportation system has been massively impaired," wrote Hans-Werner Franz, the head of the VBB, the public transport authority for Berlin and Brandenburg, in a letter to German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich. Franz is calling for a "legal foundation for a nationwide ban on selling and consuming alcohol in the facilities and vehicles of the public transportation system."

Such a ban would put a dampener on spontaneous partying in Berlin's subway system as well as beer-soaked train journeys to soccer games -- though not all partygoers and football fans would agree that this will necessarily lead to an improvement in the "quality of the experience" on public transport.

But this isn't just about harmless boozing. Ban proponents hope it could also help reduce instances of fighting on railway platforms. Alcohol continues to play a role in the fights that break out on commuter trains, some of which have even led to fatalities.

Company Worries

The proposed ban isn't just controversial among passengers. Transportation providers are also worried about having to enforce it. The fronts on this battle have been firmly drawn, just as they are on the years-long debate over a smoking ban.

The party that would be most affected is Deutsche Bahn (DB), the state-owned railway company that is also the country's market leader in rail traffic. In order to implement the ban on alcohol in Hamburg's commuter railway system, the company has had to hire 50 additional security personnel and spend an estimated €1.5 million ($2 million) a year. Were the company required to do the same thing across Germany, internal calculations put the annual costs at over €100 million.