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Getting Caught Without a Valid Ticket on Berlin Public Transport and Paying My First S-Bahn / BVG Fine

U-Bahn - U1 Coming Into Schlesisches Tor BerlinThere are some Berlin rites of passage to be relished – opening a beer bottle with a lighter for the first time, for instance – and some not so rewarding experiences – like paying your first S-Bahn or BVG fine.

How I got an S-Bahn / BVG Fine for travelling without a ticket on the Berlin S-Bahn

I had the misfortune to get caught without a ticket on the S-Bahn the other day.  I was on my way to Neukölln on the Ringbahn when a Kontrolletti, a Berlin public transport ticket inspector got on the train.

“Die Fahrkarten, bitte.”

I’m not a Schwarzfahrer (the German term for some travelling without a ticket) so I wasn’t worried.  I opened my wallet to get my ticket out and…wait, what, where is it?  All of a sudden I was that guy.  I’ve seen other people do it often enough.  I checked all my pockets, I looked in every compartment of my wallet and repeated the process another couple of times to be sure.

I definitely didn’t have my ticket with me.

The ticket controller reached me and I explained (the following conversation took place in German).

“I don’t have a ticket. I’ve left my Monatskarte (monthly ticket) at home.”

“Which ticket do you have?”

“A 10-Uhr Monatskarte” (this is a monthly ticket that allows you to travel after 10am each day).

“ID card please.”

I then gave him my UK Driver’s Licence.

“ID card please.”

“I come from the UK. I don’t have an ID card.”

He then asked for my name and address, which he typed into his handheld machine and printed and gave me a slip of paper detailing my 60€ fine.

A Penalty Notice for and S-Bahn / BVG Fine for Schwarzfahren - travelling without a valid ticket on public transport in Berlin

Penalty Notice for Schwarzfahren (travelling without a valid ticket on public transport) in Berlin

After he’d gone I went through the pocket and wallet checking routine a few more times.  People were giving me the look.  The ‘we all know you haven’t got a ticket and you’re just pretending to look for it’ look.

Naturally, I was very frustrated about getting a fine and sent a tweet about it.

A few people then suggested that taking my Monatskarte with me when I went to pay the fine would mean that I only had to pay a reduced fine (thank you to everyone who offered advice / sent links to useful websites / offered sympathy).  I was sceptical about this as I had no way to prove that it was my ticket but at least I now knew that this was a possibility.

The Kundenbüro at Ostbahnhof where I had to pay an S-Bahn / BVG Fine for Paid for Schwarzfahren (travelling without a valid ticket on public transport) in Berlin

The Kundenbüro at Ostbahnhof

Paying My Fine at Ostbahnhof

The next day I went to Ostbahnhof to the S-Bahn and Deutsche Bahn Kundenbüro, (on the gallery level of the main lobby at the front of the station) and presented my penalty notice and explained that I had a Monatskarte but had left it at home.

10-Uhr Monatskarte Berlin

The 10-Uhr Monatskarte (monthly ticket) that I left at home

The staff member I spoke to was very pleasant about it but explained that the fine would not be reduced as my ticket was transferrable.  I then paid the 60€ fine and was given a receipt that I was told to keep for 6 months.

A Receipt for an S-Bahn / BVG Fine for Paid for Schwarzfahren (travelling without a valid ticket on public transport) in Berlin

My receipt for paying my S-Bahn / BVG Fine for Paid for Schwarzfahren

The whole process left me with a pretty bad taste in my mouth but I was mostly angry with myself.  Ironically, I don’t choose to travel without a ticket on principle and agree that fines need to be sizeable enough to discourage as many people as possible from trying to game the system.

I happen to think that public transport in Berlin is pretty damn good, though it’s not without its issues like the crazy number of repairs taking place simultaneously in July and August each year.  It’s also, in comparison to London, where I lived and worked in the past, relatively cheap.

That being said it was still extremely galling to have to cough up 60€ when I already had a ticket and had made the simple mistake of leaving it at home.

The Rules – Travelling Without a Valid Ticket on Berlin Public Transport

The next day I thought I’d look into the exact details of how the system works and googled (in English and in German): ‘BVG fines’, ‘S Bahn fines Berlin’, ‘travelling without ticket Berlin’, and other variations thereof.

I wasn’t having much joy so I took to twitter and e-mailed the accounts for the BVG’s ‘weil wir Dich lieben’ campaign and S Bahn Berlin.

The S Bahn Berlin account didn’t bother to reply and the BVG U-Bahn account that replied was about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

A conversation about Schwarzfahren (travelling without a ticket on public transport) in Berlin with the twitter account of the BVG U-Bahn

First they pointed me at an article on the website with just this short paragraph:

Fare Evasion in Berlin

Anyone caught in public transportion (sic) without a valid ticket must pay a higher fare of 60 Euros. Even people who forgot to stamp their ticket must pay the fine.  Note: Ticket inspectors are dressed in plain clothes and will not make any exceptions for tourists.  Those who get caught have to show an ID, otherwise the police will be called.

This being far from the comprehensive details I was looking for, I tried again asking for Terms and Conditions and specifically asking about grounds for a reduction of the fine.

And this time got pointed to a page on the VBB (Verkehrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg – the public transport priovider for Berlin and Brandenburg) website with the all their tariff related brochures.

Thankfully I had also asked Steffi to help with my research and using the keywords she gave me I managed to find the relevant clauses about Erhöhtes Beförderungsentgelt (Increased Travel Charge) in the Terms and Conditions of the VBB.

For non-German speakers the most important facts are:

  1. Travelling without a valid ticket on public transport will incur a fine of 60€ (as at June 2016).
  2. The fine will be reduced to 7€ in cases where a passenger is able to prove that they had a valid ticket (only in cases where it is non-transferrable) at the time that they received the penalty notice.

Travelling With a Forged Ticket on Berlin Public Transport

Coincidentally, while I was researching the fines for travelling without a ticket on Berlin public transport I read a tweet from Barry Burns about a friend who has been fined 900€ for travelling with a fake ticket.

Anyone who has been to Berlin has probably been offered ‘used tickets’ for reduced prices.  The sellers hang around the ticket machines waiting for tourists or locals looking to save a euro or two.  Unsurprisingly, some of these tickets are either fakes or used tickets that have had their stamps rubbed off.

Again I spent some time trawling the websites of the BVG, S-Bahn Berlin and the VBB and countless forums.  It is quite clear from what I read that the railway companies consider travelling with fake tickets much more serious than having no ticket at all.  The offence is in fact treated as fraud and it is the courts that decide the penalties rather than the railway companies.  The best explanation I could find was a press release from the S-Bahn Berlin (again only in German so I have translated it as best I can).

There is no mercy if passengers submit manipulated or forged tickets, as is the case if they are caught for a third time.  In this case, the transport companies bring charges. S-Bahn Berlin and BVG insistently point out once again that tickets may only be purchased at authorised sales points and ticket machines.  Those who buy from hawkers must expect counterfeiting.  Therefore, in the case of inspection: ignorance is no excuse!

What I Learned From Being Fined For Not Having a Valid Ticket on Berlin Public Transport

The first thing I learned was that it was almost impossible to find any information about the S-Bahn and BVG fines for travelling without a valid ticket in English and not easy in German.

My advice when it comes to travelling on Berlin public transport: never buy ‘used tickets’ – a fake could cost you dearly – and always check you have your ticket before leaving the house – getting caught without a ticket even if it’s a genuine mistake will cost you just as much as not buying a ticket at all.  Schwarzfahren doesn’t really make sense at all but that won’t stop plenty of people from trying their luck.

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37 Responses to Getting Caught Without a Valid Ticket on Berlin Public Transport and Paying My First S-Bahn / BVG Fine

  1. Lucas 11 June, 2016 at 12:19 #

    Great article.

  2. Oki 11 June, 2016 at 21:40 #

    Unfortunate, but since the tickets are not personal, it is understandable that you had to pay the 60€. Sorry for your loss, though.

  3. mani 21 July, 2016 at 14:38 #

    Very detailed article, thank you for the translations for non german speakers.

  4. Paul 29 August, 2016 at 19:23 #

    Is there any way to pay the fine online ? My son just got back from a trip to Berlin where he got one of these €60 fines (lost his ticket – no mercy!) and I can’t make much sense of the form or find anything that looks like a URL for paying it online ?

  5. Nikita 23 October, 2016 at 23:41 #

    is really painful isnt it?!bad luck happens, i did similar mistake, i had a ticket but i bought wrong ticket, do you know address of Kundenburo? now i have to pay:(

    • Dee Hann 10 May, 2017 at 20:55 #

      Hello Nikita. And Paul. My son also got a ticket on his last day in Berlin, and did not have the time to pay. Now back in the states, he wants to pay by wire transfer (we learned they will not take credit cards from US). My bank tells me they cannot wire transfer without an account number and address. So my question is: Did you run into this same problem? If so, what account number did you use for the wire transfer? It seems I need it for Infoscore Forderungsmanagement, Baden-Baden. Is this the name of the collection agency??

  6. Luiz 24 October, 2016 at 19:12 #

    Great article man. Today I was caught with a Kurzstrecke ticket but in a false direction. The rules are not clear (specially for tourists). I also don’t think it’s fair to pay the same amount of money as someone without a ticket at all.

    Reading your text I’m curious, what happen if they catch you with a ticket stamped on another day? You can do it on proposal but also can get the wrong one for some reason…. Do they consider as a fake?

    Anyway… thank you

  7. Nuri 17 November, 2016 at 14:54 #

    Hey, can you tell me if you’re able to pay the fine online??
    alMOST the same happened to me and i’m trying to pay it online… did they mention anything to you about it?

    • andberlin 7 February, 2017 at 19:41 #

      Nuri, I’m not aware of a way to pay the fine online. Sorry.

  8. suminumi 19 November, 2016 at 16:26 #

    Hi! Just got ticketed and super bummed out. Did research to see how other people deal with it and found your article.

    This isn’t my first time to get ticketed and it was not intentional at all (my first time was like your case… forgot to bring the ticket and they insisted that I could have given it to someone…) This time I simply forgot to stamp it. They could have just taken my card that wasn’t stamped instead of fining me. That makes the most sense. But why do I get treated the same as those who intentionally do a wrong thing? Okay, yes I forgot to stamp and I understand that I might have to pay extra but the same fine across the board isn’t simply fair!!!

    You know, you could forget your card at home again and you could get ticketed again. It could happen because we are not perfect and the system makes it easy to do that.

    In other big cities, if you don’t have a valid ticket, you can’t simply go through a turnstile. Then you buy a new ticket or you go home to get your card.

    The system here in Berlin isn’t fair for those people who obey the rule and get screwed for things which are not intentional…

    In your case, you at least went to their office with the card. I mean how many people would do that to make things right? If you’re really a Schwarzfahrer then you won’t go to their office in the first place and at least they should reduce the fine, not 60!!! No??

    Big sigh.

  9. Michelle 2 December, 2016 at 08:59 #

    Thanks for the article, I was also looking for a chance for reduction, as I was caught yesterday and had to pay €60. Even though I had tried to pay for a ticket, the machine wouldn’t take my type of credit card, so I thought, let me try get a ticket at the next station. Unfortunately, I was caught om that 1minute train ride, and indeed, they make no exceptions for tourists that just arrived and have no clue about how the system works…

    I’m hoping this city still has nice things to offer to lift the spirits!

  10. S Jenkins 7 December, 2016 at 17:53 #

    anyone know if you have to pay the admin fees from a debt collection agency who is acting for the train company. Is it legal as the fine 60 eur has now been paid but the agency are asking for another 39 eur. Should we pay this extra amount?

    • Donnie 9 October, 2017 at 13:04 #

      Since the debt collection agency communicates by regular mail, they can’t prove that they handed you any papers. A friend of mine just transferred the fine directly to BVG, and told them that no such letter arrived and they accepted it.
      But if you transferred to the debt collection agency, then you have acknowledged receipt of the letter from them. You might try to dispute the extra charges with them, as they usually are exorbitant, but your mileage may vary. If you’re not well familiar with German stuff (language, system, etc) it’s best to just accept the loss and move on.

  11. Charlotte 8 December, 2016 at 12:30 #

    Me and four friends have just had the issue where we have been charged €120 between us for not travelling with a valid ticket. However, we had bought the ticket three days ago that we was told buy the ticket operator would last us all three days for all four of us, it turns out that I was only valid for one day but we didn’t know this and had been told false information. The ticket had also previously been checked earlier on during the journey and no comment was made. Do you have any advice for this?

  12. CRussell 23 December, 2016 at 08:45 #

    Thank you for your blog. It has helped us lots. As tourists we just landed at Schonfeld we purchased two tickets for the S45 travel into Berlin. We mistakenly/unknowingly didn’t validate them. A rule break we accept. However the inspectors that challenged us were unprofessional with an intimating attitude & behaviour. They demanded our passports, refused to listen to reason- there was three of them! They insisted we pay E60 each but, when we asked to speak to the manager, then offered to let one of us off with the fine (!!!), therefore breaking their own rules, which was very unacceptable and as at this point we thought it ridiculous we accepted the tickets he produced thinking we’d try to speak to someone less intimidating.
    After reading your blog we visited ostbahnhof kundenbureo where a very reasonable man took our receipts, tickets and yellow fine documents and reduced the charge to E7 each! Very quickly, no questions asked. He rolled his eyes and hastily said the inspector trying to let us off with one fine was a mistake.
    I suspect this happens often. Thank you for your blog and information once again. It certainly helped us enjoy our trip to Berlin fully!

    • andberlin 25 January, 2017 at 02:07 #

      I’m glad to hear that you had the sense not to fall for the trick of paying the fine in cash and even more pleased to hear that you dealt with a very reasonable member of staff at the Kundenbüro.

  13. Dan 4 January, 2017 at 18:37 #

    Hi, good article! I have recently moved to berlin and bought a monthly pass. Does this still need to be validated in a ticket machine? Even if it has the start and end dates on? Cheers!

    • andberlin 25 January, 2017 at 02:08 #

      Dan, tickets with start and end dates on them don’t need to be validated. This is something I only realised after several weeks of doing so after I first arrived.

  14. Greg 20 January, 2017 at 18:32 #

    You should have rented a bike, much faster, no headaches. Or, if you are in a big city for at least 10 days, it is worth it to by a cheap bike for say 80 EUR for 10 days or more, and sell it when you leave. When I was in New York city for 10 days, I bought a bike in Kmart for 100 dollars. That’s 10 dollars a day for transport for the 10 days, right? No. I sold it for 20 dollars on the street in 3 minutes. 100-20=80 dollars / 10 = 8 dollars a day on transport. One ride on the subway would have cost 3.5 dollars. Do the math.

    • IB 21 May, 2017 at 10:58 #

      Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz smug useless post and of no help to anyone who gets a fine whilst using the transport system. Have a word with yourself

  15. Mihaela Popinciuc 21 January, 2017 at 09:38 #

    It happened today to forget the monthly ticket at home as I have changed bags … and surprise.. I got a fine. But the ticket was paid with the credit card and the transaction shows on my online app. I hope the fine will be reduced to 7.

    • andberlin 25 January, 2017 at 02:10 #

      I’m sorry to hear you got fined and I really hope you only have to pay the reduced fine.

  16. jonnhy 30 January, 2017 at 12:36 #

    hello fellas

    i will like some of your help i gota fined yesterday und i give them my driving licence where is my name but my named has 2 names and 2 last names and also over there doesnt show up my id number
    the inspector ask me for my adress which i give him a wrong one from peru
    and the most important in the fined doesnt show up my name or my id number or neither my adress how the hell they gonna send me a letter or contact me to make me pay the fined im a tourist leaving in 1 month but coming back to europe in summer what you guys think im considering to dont pay a shit and just go or what do you guys think how they gonna find me im from southamerica far away any recomendations?—
    thanks to all

    • andberlin 7 February, 2017 at 19:21 #

      It seems like you may already have decided what you’re going to do seeing as you gave a false address. I guess it’s really a question for you and your conscience.

    • may 27 November, 2017 at 00:28 #

      hey, what did you do in the end? Or did anything happen when you came back? i got fined a month ago and gave a fake address

  17. Emile VD 11 February, 2017 at 16:01 #

    I was in Berlin last week.
    Thursday afternoon I bought a single ticket. We came from the olympiastadium and we were going to the brandenburger tor.
    My friends were waiting at Friedrich strasse, so I left the metro and I waited in the station to see my friends.
    A few minutes later I found them and we stepped inside the metro to go to our last destination, called the brandenburger tor.

    Suddenly, 5 inspectors came to us…
    Die Fahrkarten, bitte.
    I am no Schwarzfahrer, so i gave him my ticket. He asked for my ID because my ticket had expired (for 20minutes).

    So yeah, I have to pay 60€.

    We were tourists from 19years old so we didn’t have that much money in our wallet.
    It was our last day in Berlin and we could not takeout another 60€ in a bank.
    So the inspector gave us a transfer document.

    Using the metro without a ticket = 60€ fine
    Using the metro with an expired ticket = also 60€ fine

  18. jacko71 24 April, 2017 at 16:08 #

    My husband & i were traveling to the airport to return home and i mistakingly bought two tickets that didn’t cover travel to the airport, we were then stopped and all our details taken; passports, home address etc. We were both very annoyed and made to feel like criminals but were told by the inspectors as the difference in price between the tickets we should have bought & the ones we did was 80cents & as we were tourists, if i went online they would probably waiver the 60euro fines. When we reached the terminal bulding i attempted to go online to do this but as the site was in German i couldn’t understand and decided to ring the company. The lady in spoke to did speak English to a degree & said could i pay a discounted fee of 20euro’s. As i had previosly been told i would probably have the fee waived, i was reluctant to pay this and told her i had no means of paying she then told me once i had left the country there was nothing they could do and i could ignore the fine. As soon as i arrived home i wrote to the company explaining all this, thought i had been let off but then today a letter has arrived (one each)stating we need to pay the 60euros before 2/5/17 🙁
    I have come to the conclusion that i will just have to pay the fine & get on with life but my new dilema is how do i pay it

  19. Beth 24 June, 2017 at 12:47 #

    Did anyone figure out how to pay the fine from the UK online?

    I wasn’t aware it had to be paid in Germany, and my flight was just over an hour after I’d been issued the fine so I was in a rush.

  20. Robert 4 September, 2017 at 22:04 #

    Hi everyone, My name is Rob from the U.S. and was in Berlin on holiday in the spring, got a ticket and did the money order thing ( The only way to pay them) because they keep threatening me with, “will take you to court”. Now they are telling me I owe a little more and also I keep getting my bills late (maybe U.S.customs fault) to my address. How do I handle this?

  21. Barbara 8 December, 2017 at 16:27 #

    What happens if you don’t pay the 60$ after giving him your ID document?

    • Deschutes 29 March, 2018 at 16:21 #

      My thoughts exactly. I am going to try and find out! I hate the DB Bahn inspectors. Don’t pay them. I’m not going to. If you are in a foreign country collecting the payment will be a huge problem.

  22. Tom 20 January, 2018 at 19:00 #

    Me and my girlfriend just got fined for not validating our tickets… We are both tourists here from Ireland and tried explaining to the ticket officer that we went out of our way to buy the ticket in the first place, as there was no ticket machine at the tram stop and from the point we entered the tram to the seat there was no validation machine. I also explained that the tickets machine we bought from said in certain circumstances you may not have to validate… Never actually explaining when this occurs… We assumed this was that time. The officer as others have stated was very intimidating and called us criminals… I took great offense to this as I am a police officer in Ireland and as rule will make sure not to even thread the line with committing a crime. After a while he said he would only charge us one fine if we paid in cash there and then i tried to avoid this but then he said he would call the police and pointed out an atm machine across the street. As I thought that was such a waist of time we paid in cash… I realise this wasn’t the best thing to do now… This really ruined what has been a great trip to this point.

  23. Laila Ul Nisa 21 January, 2018 at 10:22 #

    I had a bad experience. I was recently in Berlin and was travelling to Alxanderaplatz along with a friend. All of a sudden we saw that we were travelling in the wrong direction. We got down from the metro at one station and entered the right one. Suddenly two officers came and told us to get down. We got down. They took our passports and asked us to pay the fine. We pleaded them that we were New and really didn’t know that we had to book another ticket. Anyways after a lot of arguing the officer gave us our passports back. But what was interesting is that he took the fine from us but didn’t give any receipt.

  24. Phil 4 February, 2018 at 17:33 #

    I was caught with a several minute expired ticket three years ago in a schwarzfaher sting on the M2 tram by BVG employees in uniform. They had a tram station staked out and when the tram arrived, they held the tram in the station while about 8 people checked everyone on the tram. I paid on the spot in cash and they didnt even ask for ID . They printed me out a receipt as well so they couldnt of pocketed the money. I’m not sure if they normally demand ID if you’re willing to pay on the spot. In my case they didn’t.

  25. Deschutes 29 March, 2018 at 16:17 #

    Today bought a ‘Kurzstrecket’ (short trip) ticket, validated it and got on the U-bahn at Turmstrasse. My destination was Landsburger Allee. Just a few stops from Landsburger Allee plain clothes ticket inspectors got on the train and inspected my ticket: after barking at me in German I replied I don’t understand what you are saying. He then said “it is only valid for 3 stops from start point” and he demanded identification. I explained I didn’t know as I was a tourist doing a short errand, etc. He would have none of it. He quickly wrote me up a ticket using my passport and moved on to other passengers. No letting you off with a warning for the first offense here in Berlin! I think it was very excessively punitive behavior to be so neo-nazi over such a minor offense; and a 60 euro penalty even though I had purchased a ticket and was trying to follow the rules? Yep, that’s what I call being an asshole.

    But in truth this ugly encounter gave me a first hand taste of what is the German national character and stereotype: Germans have always over the ages been known for being surly, unforgiving, rules obsessed, unsympathetic and eager to punish those that break the rules.

    I deliberately gave the ticket inspector a wrong address in my home country, so good luck tracking me down S-Bahn assholes 😀

    I will never pay you….NEVER.

  26. Peter 9 May, 2018 at 14:49 #

    what happens if you are unable to pay due to incorrect bank account? if two weeks deadline expires, what is the worst case scenario for an oversea tourist from Moldova?

  27. Linda Li 14 June, 2018 at 17:22 #

    I got a Berlin S-Bahn fine although I bought the ticket and stamped on it! Because I couldn’t read the German and couldn’t find anyone to help me at the time, I bought a reduced price ticket from the machine and I thought it was the ticket for Seniors and Students as same as in USA and other countries. I’m a senior. The tickets machine’s English version did not give a clear definition about what is regular or reduced price ticket. I think this was unfair. How could German expect people from other countries understand their language? Why didn’t they set up more offices to help people? They have no mercy. I got the fine paper written in German and I couldn’t read it. I only stayed in Berlin for two days and was on my way to Austria when the inspector gave me the fine. He didn’t speak English and I could not complain about it. After I traveled around the world and finally came home, I found the fine has passed the deadline! I really don’t know what to do.

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