If you’re not European, it’s likely that your new home in Bielefeld will come with a learning curve when it comes to using public transportation.  I was not used to being without a personal car, or riding the bus, and I had never been on a train before!  German public transportation is excellent, and while it is more expensive than other places in Europe, it is perfectly possible to live without a car here (and we do).  Like many things in Germany, things often run like a well-oiled machine, but it is not likely that anyone will tell you how that well-oiled machine actually works….well we will!

Deals on train travel-

Train travel can be quite expensive, but there are often deals to be found.  Like plane tickets, it is always beneficial to book in advance for non-local trips.  The German rail system is run by Deutsche Bahn, and on their website: http://www.bahn.de/p/view/index.shtml (which is available in English), you can find special offers and plan your trip.  There are a few special tickets which may come in handy for you:
NRW ticket- This ticket allows you unlimited travel in the entire state of North-Rhine Westphalia from 9am until 3am the following day.  It is good for all regional trains (NOT the IC or ICE), all trams, and also buses.  The cost for one person is 26€, or you can buy an NRW ticket that is good for up to 5 people for 36€ (this may change).  This is usually the cheapest way to get from Bielefeld to the Dusseldorf airport, or to Cologne.  Important: the ticket is NOT good before 9am on weekdays!  This ticket is particularly useful for a day trip to tour a city.  For example, you can go to Cologne on the train, and sightsee all day on trams and buses, and then come back by train, all with this one ticket.
Although the NRW ticket is only good within our state, every German state has their own state ticket.  This is often a good option if you are visiting a city as a tourist and want to see as much as possible in one day.  Keep in mind that two popular cities, Bremen and Berlin, are their own city-states.
Schönes Wochenende (good weekend) ticket- This ticket allows up to 5 people unlimited travel anywhere in Germany for one day, on either Saturday or Sunday.  The ticket costs 40€ when you buy it online.  It is good from midnight until 3am the following day (27 hours).  It cannot be used on weekdays, and like the NRW ticket it can only be used on regional transport (NOT the IC or the ICE trains).  It is also good for trams and buses.
This ticket is a good option if you are sightseeing in another state.  If you are travelling a long distance, however, it can take quite a long time because you are not allowed to take the fast trains.
Tram/Bus travel-
If you don’t frequently ride the buses and trams, the cheapest option is buying 4-er tickets.  Each ticket can be stamped 4 times.
Bus tickets can be bought from the bus drivers, but they cost less if you buy them from the electronic machines, which are located at all of the tram stops.  They can be confusing!  To buy a 4-er ticket for Bielefeld, press the green “1” button next to the image of 4 people.  Do not press the “4” button, this means region 4!
Stamping a ticket once will allow you to travel all the way to your destination, even if you must change trams or buses.   The stamp stays valid for 90 minutes, and you can travel as much as you want to during that time.
You can also buy week or month tickets, which allow you unlimited rides.  There is also a specific month ticket which allows one person unlimited travel, and an additional person can ride with you after 19:00 on weekdays and all day on weekends.  These tickets can be purchased from the Mobiel office underground at the Jahnplatz.
There is no difference between tram and bus tickets.  You can use all tickets for both.
Car sharing-
If you do not have a car here in Bielefeld, it is nice to still have the ability to occasionally use one, for example when you go grocery shopping and cannot carry everything on the bus.  Bielefeld has a number of ordinary car rental places, but there is also the option of car sharing.  Cambio offers a service in which rental cars are parked strategically around town (mostly near tram stops), and members can simply reserve one of the cars for a period of time, and then bring it back to the same place.  Everything is automated- once you become a member, you can reserve cars online in seconds, and then type your member number into the electronic box next to the car to pick up your key.
Several options are available for membership, depending on how often you plan on renting a car.  Members pay a small monthly fee, a flat rate per hour, and per kilometer usage.  An average cost might be around 10€ per hour.  A gas card is kept in the car in case you need to refuel, and members do not pay anything for gas.
You must have a valid European driver’s license to register.  International and foreign driver licenses are usually recognized for the first 6 months.  After that, you must obtain a European license.  An extension can be made if you are staying in Germany for less than one year, but you must prove this with paperwork.  Licenses from all EU member countries are recognized without time limitations, and there is no need to change your license.
More information about car sharing can be found at www.cambio-carsharing.de (German and English)

 

Patty

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