96

I recently took a train to Munich from a tiny suburban station that only had a couple of ticket machines. At the time I was there one of the machines was broken, but I was able to get a ticket from the second one.

But what is one supposed to do if all the machines at the current station are broken down or if there isn't one altogether? There weren't any MVV personnel at the station and the train I was taking (S-Bahn) likewise doesn't have any conductors selling tickets.

To avoid an overly narrow question about S-Bahn trains in Munich, it would be nice to get a general answer about Germany as a whole.

  • 8
    Some info on inside.bahn.de/fahrkartenautomat-defekt I might write an answer based on it if nobody has done it in the meantime. What they advise is writing down the machine number/taking a picture with your mobile phone. The page does imply that being caught without a ticket might result in an extra charge, to be sorted out later, if the train guard isn't able to confirm your story immediately. – Relaxed Aug 8 '17 at 12:54
  • @Relaxed are there also small stations without ticket machines in the first place in Germany? There are plenty in Czech Republic. – JonathanReez Aug 8 '17 at 13:07
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    I have no idea. I don't recall ever seeing one, but I haven't been to many small stations. – Relaxed Aug 8 '17 at 13:11
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    @JonathanReez Yes there are. If you are entering a train without a ticket machine you can buy it from a staff member. – Rhayene Aug 8 '17 at 14:30
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    @JonathanReez: This rather depends on the company operating the line. Most companies have their vending machines either exclusively at the stations or on the train (and major stations). If there is no vending machine at the station, you can expect to find one on the train. – Wrzlprmft Aug 8 '17 at 15:07
35

Deutsche Bahn has an app for Android, iOS and Windows called DB Navigator, and according to the official site, this app lets you buy tickets. It also features English language.

Here is an example for an MVV journey similar to the one described in OP:

enter image description here

Of course, DB cannot expect all travelers to have a smartphone to buy tickets on, and therefore the other answers here are completely valid.

However, if you happen to have a smartphone with a data plan with you and simply want to buy a ticket, avoiding any explanations and/or hassle, purchasing a ticket through this app may be the simplest solution.

  • 19
    Note that setting this up the first time can be quite a hassle (account registration, fumbling around with your credit card in public), so this is not really something you use in an "emergency". Especially if you're, say, with small kids, you won't have the nerve for this. But it's a good alternative to consider in general. Your local public transport authority may also have a custom version of this which may be more or less easy to use. – deceze Aug 9 '17 at 6:28
  • Not MVV, but my experience with the RMV app (around Frankfurt) is that the ticket machines work much more reliably... – cbeleites Aug 9 '17 at 15:28
  • @cbeleites Thanks for that info. And of course, this question is about a hypothetical scenario in which all the ticket machines are out of order. – Revetahw Aug 9 '17 at 16:41
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    @deceze True, but you would only need to do it once; if you live in Germany or are otherwise required to travel often in Germany, it might be worth the effort to sit down and install/configure the app once, after which you are already all set in case you need it. – 11684 Aug 10 '17 at 22:09
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    @Turion However, the tickets are sold for a relation, not for a specific train (excluding reduced-price saver tickets on long-distance trains and certain international long-distance trains). Once you have a ticket you can use it on any train of that relation (unless you are attempting to use a ‘higher’ train than what you bought, i.e. you cannot use an intercity with a regional train ticket but you can use a regional train with an intercity regular fare ticket). – Jan Aug 12 '17 at 2:39
131

I had this happen with the S-Bahn in Frankfurt and made 'official' enquiries about what sort of action the person should take (I like to play everything strictly by the book). By 'official' I mean I went to the station manager's office and asked the question to him point-blank. Predictably for Germany, there is a brochure that explains the procedure.

Each ticket machine has a unique identifier, it's a number on a steel plate (or otherwise affixed) on the front or side. You take a sheet of paper and write down the number and the date/time and your destination. When (and if) challenged, you produce the sheet of paper.

The revenue protection staff will know what to do after that and you will be off the hook (all other things being equal). End of story.

I suppose that a mobile photo of the machine and a close up of the unique identifier will also do, but that's a pure guess.

  • 80
    “Sorry, a photo is not acceptable. You must have the numbers written on a sheet of paper.” “Hmm, let me search my bag again then.” [Hasty scribbling] “Oh, yes, I did write down the details on paper, I had just forgotten!” – PLL Aug 9 '17 at 7:23
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    @PLL "You do not have a pen and paper on you? Sorry, gotta fine you…" – deceze Aug 9 '17 at 8:25
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    Do not underestimate the strictness of German rules... – Puce Aug 9 '17 at 11:03
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    Unfortunately, this answer is not complete. The most important thing to do is actually Step 5 in Wrzlprmft's answer: "It is most important that you show clear intent to buy a ticket [from the conductor] without being checked." – user24594 Aug 9 '17 at 11:41
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Aug 15 '17 at 7:49
96
  1. Write down or memorise the number of the ticket machine (Automatennummer, Automaten-Nr. or similar) as well as time and date. For a typical Deutsche Bahn machine, it is the number on white background in a window that looks like this:

    enter image description here

  2. If possible, take a picture showing that it isn’t working.

  3. On each machine there is a number to contact in this event; call it if possible. Especially with smaller companies, you have to expect that the person answering will speak little or no English. In this case, consider asking locals to do this for you.

  4. If there are any locals suffering from the same problem as you, try to stick to them. This way you can benefit from them being familiar with the circumstances, the language, and similar. Also, the more people there are reporting the same problem, the more convincing you are.

  5. After entering the train, search for the conductor immediately. If there is none (e.g., on short-distance trains) wait and approach them directly if they enter the train. It is most important that you show clear intent to buy a ticket without being checked.

    In most cases (going by personal experience and stories of others), the conductor will sell you a ticket at the regular price. To this end it helps if the conductor is convinced that the machine is not working (here, steps 1–4 come into play). However, if the conductor isn’t convinced, they may charge you the increased fare for dodgers, which is usually 60 €. In most cases, you can reclaim this (again, the previous steps help), but it may be a rather tedious procedure for a traveller, particularly a foreign one. Also, prepare for major annoyances if you cannot pay this fare (remember that credit cards may not be accepted).

All of this assumes that there is not a single working automatic or human vendor of tickets at the station.

Note that in some cases, you may also find a ticket machine on the train.

Sources (all in German)

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    While this may be technically the correct procedure, you probably won't get into much trouble if you don't rigorously follow steps 1 - 3. Approaching a conductor at the earliest opportunity is IMO the one and only step necessary. The other steps may simply be impossible due to time or other constraints, so can't be expected to be followed by everyone. – deceze Aug 9 '17 at 6:33
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    @deceze: That can't be a required step. – Depends on what exactly you consider required. You can probably convince the conductor or even get a refund without it, depending on the circumstances. However, if you want to be sure, I expect being able to identify the machine is required. Also note that all the linked documents contain this point and some machines explicitly state that you should use this number for disputes (not on the display but on the machine itself). – Wrzlprmft Aug 9 '17 at 9:31
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    I interpret the language in that picture to mean that it'd be nice if you informed the authorities in case you find the machine is not working, or if you have some beef with the machine itself (e.g. wrong amount of change returned) you should call and give the machine number. I do not interpret that as "you need to present this number to the conductor if you cannot get a ticket". – Sure, it might be useful to have, but again, can hardly be required of you. – deceze Aug 9 '17 at 9:35
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    @O.R.Mapper: Sure, but so does walking over to buy a ticket. – Wrzlprmft Aug 10 '17 at 22:05
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    @Wrzlprmft: My point is that you wouldn't walk over if you recognized the machine to be out of service already across the tracks. Thus, in the process of buying tickets (that may include checking several machines until you find one that works), your interaction time with that particular machine would be very short, unless you have to walk over to read the machine number. – O. R. Mapper Aug 10 '17 at 23:25
20

Anecdotal: A year or so ago I was trying to ride from Kleve to Duesseldorf on a Sunday morning. Machine was working but it didn't take Credit Card (only the omnipresent Eurocard in Germany), I was 50c short in change and small bills, wouldn't accept a 50 Euro note, and no stores were open to make change.

Fortunately, there was a conductor when I boarded, so I just asked her what to do. I was more than willing to pay, but couldn't for technical reasons. In the end she let me ride for free.

This also happened to me in Sweden a few weeks ago: Only one ticket machine at the station and it's broken. It affected quite a few people and the conductor was aware. The train made an extra long stop in the next larger station so everyone could shuffle out, line up at the machines there, buy a ticket and come back in again.

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    You were lucky then. The terms of service of Deutsche Bahn clearly state that the customer is responsible for bringing either enough cash or any other accepted payment method (e. g. EC/Maestro though I usually see major credit cards being accepted by DB ticket machines and have used VISA myself on many occasions). – David Foerster Aug 9 '17 at 11:37
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    @DavidFoerster Hilmar brought enough cash, but the ticket seller had no change for the 50 Euro note he had. In that case they have are responsible for giving at least enough change, even if that means not charging the full price. In this case that meant not charging anything at all. – jwenting Aug 9 '17 at 11:55
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    @jwenting: The terms of service also state that the customer is responsible for bringing suitable denominations for cash payments. The ticket machines in Berlin will only return up to 20 € in change. (For tickets bought from bus drivers there's no guarantee for any change at all. I know because I helped out a lady who wasn't allowed on the bus because the driver didn't have suitable change for her to buy the ticket. The public buses in Berlin aren't operated by Deutsche Bahn or its subsidiaries though.) – David Foerster Aug 9 '17 at 12:04
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    @DavidFoerster I'm not sure about Germany, but in the Netherlands that's not enforcable unless it is explicitly stated that change from more than X are not possible (and even then, it's quite likely that in most cases a court would decide against the company, if the customer had tried to pay in a reasonable way, so not pay a 25 cent roll of candy with a 200 Euro note, but a 20 Euro train ticket with a 50 Euro note would not hold in a court as being unreasonable). – jwenting Aug 9 '17 at 14:06
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    @jwenting: I'm not sure what a court would say about this because I don't think it has ever been challenged. Ultimately that is irrelevant though because whoever verifies the tickets in the trains is at liberty to evict you from them at the next stop if you fail to show a valid ticket without fear of a reprimand because they're enforcing a company policy that hasn't been declared unenforceable by a higher authority. I don't think it's worth the risk of that hassle just for a little convenience or to prove a point. – David Foerster Aug 9 '17 at 14:12
18

The official "way to go" that you will hear from DB-personal is:

  • jump in the train (without the ticket)
  • look for the man controlling the tickets on board...
  • tell him that you couldn't get a ticket because the machine was out of order!

He will sell you a ticket from his mobile Deutsche Bahn-device...

If you just make the mistake to take a sit and/or just wait that he comes to you and ask for the ticket then you will get fined with 60€ or double ticket price (whatever is higher).

Note that this procedure will work no matter if you are tourist or citizen/permanent resident, the DB can not force anyone to use a smartphone app to purchase anything, (not even if you are a citizen/permanent resident, they just can not force you... ) in fact they have the obligation to have ticket terminals or desk points at EVERY train station no matter if that train station is just a hole behind the black-forest.

Any other action like taking picture of the machine code etc etc is completely unnecessary are you are not required to do it...

  • 2
    I concur with this. In summary I would say you're supposed to make the best effort possible to procure a ticket, but that's about it. If the machine is broken, try to find a conductor at the earliest opportunity. If there is none, that's the best you could do, end of story. – deceze Aug 9 '17 at 6:23
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    That should be "look for the man checking the tickets on board..." - "kontrollieren" translates as "to check", not "to control". – Martin Bonner Aug 9 '17 at 8:16
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    IMPORTANT: Actively go look for the conductor/ticket checker. Waiting for them to come by will often be interpreted as an attempt at fare evasion. – rackandboneman Aug 11 '17 at 1:02
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    This is true. I'm german and that's how I've always done it and it's always worked, even in cases where I couldn't get a ticket due to long line on the machine. If the conductor is convinced you're not fare dodging, they'll sell you a ticket just fine. – Magisch Aug 11 '17 at 13:27
  • They do not have the obligation to put a ticket machine on every station. I know stations that do not have machines yet are serviced hourly per direction. – Jan Aug 12 '17 at 2:41
11

In order to board a train, you can only be expected to have one of two things:

  • a valid ticket
  • the equivalent cash to buy a ticket1

While the other answers are perfectly valid, you cannot be expected or required to have any of the following things:

  • a phone
  • a smartphone
  • pen and paper
  • a camera

If you're trying to board the last train somewhere in Kleinsiehstenich, Middle-of-Nowhere, and there either is no ticket vending machine or the one that is there is broken, you cannot possibly be expected to do anything else. The only things you must have is the means to pay for a ticket and the willingness to do so. You should maintain that willingness and eagerness until you have procured a ticket via any means offered to you. If there are no means being offered to you by the transportation authority, that's the best you can do.

In concrete terms that means:

  • try to get a ticket at a kiosk or vending machine before you board the train
  • if there is none, get a ticket from the driver (where applicable) or a machine inside the train
  • if there is none/no working one2, try to get a ticket from the conductor at the earliest opportunity and be upfront about all of the above
  • if there is none, and a ticket check occurs, be upfront about all of the above, voluntarily approaching the staff if possible

That's about the most effort you can be expected to display. That's four separate opportunities for the transportation authority to take your cash and convert it into a ticket. If they fail all four opportunities, they can hardly punish you for it. (Of course they still can, but I seriously doubt anyone would.)

Now, this will work differently depending on where you're boarding the train. If you're boarding the train from a major train station in a major city without a valid ticket, you have probably missed a whole bunch of things you could have done before boarding the train. But if it's a rural area with literally nothing else around, I'd be very surprised to encounter a conductor who would even raise an eyebrow.

This official VBB/DB poster corroborates these points:

point corroborating poster

"The basic rule is: buy VBB tickets before boarding the train.

"Note: should there be no ticket vending machine or manned kiosk, buy your ticket in the train. Use the ticket vending machine inside the train for this, or immediately and unprompted contact the service staff, should there be no functioning machine in the train."

Local companies may have different rules, but this should be the general idea.


1 You should have reasonable cash to pay for a ticket. For instance, if all you have is a 100€ bill, it may be unreasonable to expect to be able to pay for a ticket with this. Virtually no vending machine will accept it, and even drivers or conductors may be hard pressed. It's upon you to convert that to a more reasonable smaller bill in advance.

2 Say the machine inside the train doesn't accept whatever bill you offer it, say it can't give change for a 20€ bill at the moment. That could become a sticky situation if a ticket check occurs. I'd advise to first ask nearby passengers if anyone can exchange your bill for smaller ones. If not, maybe stick around the machine and try again later after some more people have put some coins into it. Display eagerness to obtain a ticket.

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    So all of it boils down to show what have you tried :) – fedorqui Aug 9 '17 at 10:15
  • @fedorqui: not only show, but actually try ;-) – cbeleites Aug 9 '17 at 15:17
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    The first sentence is a bit misleading. Cash is only an alternative if the ticket machine is broken. In local trains, you cannot always purchase a ticket unless the machine was defective. – mrks Aug 10 '17 at 12:54
  • @mrks That's what this whole thing is about, no? What I'm saying is that you as a human being intending to walk down to the station and board a train can only be expected to have cash. At some point between entering the station and leaving the train, there has to be some opportunity for you to exchange that cash for a ticket. You cannot be expected to buy it somewhere outside the station, over the phone, on the internet, or be born with a ticket in hand. – deceze Aug 10 '17 at 13:00
7

In Germany, in general...

You are expected to write down the selling machine's number or take a photo with your cell phone. This is in case you are being controlled, so you will only buy a ticket for 2-3 Euros rather than being fined 60 Euros. You are however also expected to actively contact personnel and tell them about it, and if there is none, you are to exit on the next station and buy your ticket there (though you will probably get away if you can just provide the broken machine number in case you're being controlled).
You are kindly asked (but not required) to help DB by calling their 0800 number and informing them. The number is found on every selling machine.

In Munich...

I was born in Munich and my grandmother still lives there, I go to Munich regularly to see her. Municians, in particular MVV personnel have a reputation of being slightly less than friendly towards foreigners (which includes non-Bavarian Germans). I can personally not confirm this. I cannot even say anything bad about Munichian bus drivers who have an extra bad reputation about being unkind ruffians.

The MVV ticket system is sheer horror. Single fares are so expensive that they almost make you faint, so most people who need more than one fare (or who are in a small group) use the Streifenkarte (costs 12.50€ if I recall correctly, might be 13€ now). A defunct selling machine would therefore usually be not such an issue since you already have your ticket in your pocket.
This kind of ticket is cheaper and very flexible, it can be used by a single person for several trips over one or several zones, or by multiple people for one or multiple trips.

Now, buying the Streifenkarte is already a bit of a challenge to a foreigner, but using it correctly is yet another dimension of joy. It involves counting the number of zones, or hops, or both. And sure enough, the number of hops allowed for a short-trip (1 tick) is different using the Tram or the U-Bahn.
Be sure you have someone show you, and be sure to look on the plan every time. And pay attention which way around you put it into the validator stamp.

The system of folding the Streifenkarte correctly is so complicated that unless you have some practice and pay much attention, you are likely to do it wrong (either having no valid ticket, or paying a full trip when a short trip would suffice, or invalidating the whole thing). My father, who is (obviously) a couple of years older than me has accidentially invalidated the whole ticket more than once.

On the other hand side... I have never been controlled in Munich. Never, not once. So, the risk of being caught with a wrongly stamped ticket seems to be rather low.

If you are planning a trip which involves more than 3-4 fares within Munich, or more than a single person, or pretty much every trip outside the city limits, then the Bayern Ticket may be a valid option, and quite possibly the best. You can only get it at selling bureaus (DB, but the MVV bureaus sell it as well).
This ticket costs you 25 Euros (used to be 15€ ?!) for the first person, plus 6€ for every additional person up to 5 people. It's valid for 24 hours, and you can go everywhere you want, not just within Munich but within Bavaria, any number of trips.

  • Note that getting off at the next stop to buy a ticket probably means you'll miss that train and need to get on the next one, which depending on where this happens and how often the trains are running is simply not an option. – deceze Aug 9 '17 at 15:25
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    "you are to exit on the next station and buy your ticket there" - at least last time when I called DB service (the 0800 number you mention) in the described situation, the instruction they gave me to exit on the next planned interchange on my trip and buy the ticket there. They explicitly did not require me to exit anywhere where I would not have exited anyway. – O. R. Mapper Aug 10 '17 at 21:12
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    The section about Munich is bad advice. A MVV ticket for a single fare is just 3.7% more expensive than a Streifenkarte. For tourists, I'd recommend MVV day tickets (6.60 € in the "white" inner zone, 12.60 € for up to 5 adults). – nwellnhof Aug 12 '17 at 14:25
  • +1 for a fascinating insight into Bavarian culture! – Gayot Fow Aug 12 '17 at 23:38
5

In addition to the excellent answers posted:

Stations in Germany exist that do not have a ticket machine or any other means of acquiring a ticket. These are typically very small very unimportant stations on tiny rural branch lines, for example the station of Grafenaschau between Oberammergau and Murnau. In this case, the expected procedure is (assuming you want to go from Grafenaschau to Munich) to board a train bound for Murnau, get off there, buy a ticket at the machine to Munich and then take the next train onwards. Since you only have a few minutes to change in Murnau, you may likely miss the next train to Munich and have to wait there for an hour. This is reflected by the fact that the price for a ticket from Munich to Grafenaschau is the same as one from Munich to Murnau.

Furthermore, especially in long-distance trains the conductors may even still be selling tickets on board. If you are on one of those trains you can just buy a ticket normally from them — be aware though that it may include a Bordpreis surcharge for buying on-board. However, since long-distance trains typically do not call in stations with the risk of all ticket machines being broken (aside from a total blackout, in which case the train most likely won’t be able to run either), this does not really help in the scenario presented.

Finally, just to reecho the standard advice given: should all else fail look for the conductor on board, say that you wanted to buy but the machines were broken, ask if you can buy a ticket immediately and you’re good unless the conductor has a very bad day (in which case you can challenge his decision).

-3

Pictures work best. I've been on the trains in Berlin and the ticket collectors are rather forgiving.

Also keep in mind that you might not even run into a ticket collector; I've had this happen many times on the trains.

FYI- if they do try to charge you with a ticket for not having one on the train, just tell them you have no cash on you. Also tell them that you have no credit card/debit because they WILL bring you to an ATM machine. They know that if you don't pay them then and there, it's gonna be almost impossible to charge you afterwards because you are from another country.;)

  • 5
    If you ride a train, you pay for it. Of course, if all machines are out, you may not be able to buy that ticket, but in that case you should pay as soon as possible. TSE is not about 'how not to pay'. This question what to do when it turns out to be hard to pay. – Willeke Aug 8 '17 at 17:47
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    Also tell them that you have no credit card/debit because they WILL bring you to an ATM machine. – Or they call the police. – Wrzlprmft Aug 8 '17 at 18:59
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    Commenters above: I don't think the OP was trying to hop trains like some Asozialer hobo. – cardiff space man Aug 8 '17 at 21:54
  • Having the cash to buy a ticket is the one and only thing you must have in order to ride a train. If you don't have the money to ride the train, you have no business being on that train and the authorities have all the rights to punish you. – deceze Aug 9 '17 at 7:52
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    don't tell people they should try to defraud a company, @fuse87 – jwenting Aug 9 '17 at 11:57

protected by JonathanReez Aug 9 '17 at 8:34

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