Germany is a federal parliamentary democracy. It has a bicameral legislature comprised of the Bundestag, which includes representatives elected directly by people, and the Bundesrat, whose representatives are appointed by state governments. Germany is a civil law country. The German head of government is the chancellor, elected through a majority vote from the Bundestag and parliaments of 16 states. The chancellor proposes members for the cabinet to preside over a ministry, and they are confirmed by the president. The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) oversees national transportation policy and funding of large infrastructure projects.
The German federal government’s primary role in transportation project delivery depends on whether a project is considered federal or non-federal infrastructure. Federal infrastructure includes interstate networks such as motorways, waterways, and railway lines owned by the federal government, such as the European Freight Corridors. The federal government selects projects and provides funding through a Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan (Bundesverkehrswegeplan, or BVWP) that prioritizes approved state projects every 15 years. Projects are incorporated into this plan based upon several factors, including cost benefit analysis (CBA) and equitable distribution between states. The BVWP does not include projects for local subways and trams, which are not considered federal infrastructure.
The planning process for non-federal projects, which include most urban public transit infrastructure, predominantly starts at the local level, after which localities develop a CBA and apply for state and federal funding. The federal government contributes up to 75 percent of funding for a new non-federal transit project through the GemeindeVerkehrsFinanzierungsGesetz (GVFG), or the Local Transport Financing Act.
Germany is comprised of 16 federated states, which includes 13 states and the three city-states of Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen. Most are governed by a state-level parliament called a Landtag, led by a minister-president and an appointed cabinet. In the three city-states, the city council functions as a state parliament. States typically contribute 20 to 30 percent of total funding for a transit project.
States are further divided into administrative districts that exist in all but the three urban city-states. Each district has an elected district council and an administrator. According to the Federal Passenger Transport Act (PBefG), districts and independent cities are responsible for coordinating public transport planning activities. Each state also has a state public transport law that postulates that the municipalities and districts are responsible for planning public transport. Municipalities are the smallest administrative unit, governed by elected councils and a mayor. Cities or municipalities play a significant role in planning, often own transit operating companies, and typically contribute 10 to 20 percent of funding for a transit project.
About every five years, cities, municipalities/districts, or regional planning entities publish a Nahverkehrsplan (NVP), or local transport plan. This includes a scan of current transit conditions as well as goals for minimum service standards, targets to make the service more attractive to users, and plans for transit expansion. Districts often do not contribute funding to urban transit projects.
Urban regional transit in Germany is organized within transit alliances. For each region there can be several large and small transit operators within an alliance. For example, the 36 transit operators in the Berlin/Brandenburg region are coordinated by the Verkehrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg (VBB). In Hamburg and neighboring counties in the states of Schleswig Holstein and Lower Saxony, Hamburger Verkehrs Verbund (HVV) operates an integrated system of 25 transit operators. The main role of a transit alliance is to coordinate schedules and information, set fare policy, and distribute fare revenue. Depending on the region, a transit alliance can also lead or assist in long-term transit planning. Local and state entities have a leading role in the governance of transit alliances in large urban areas except for Nuremburg. Small alliances in rural areas tend to be governed principally by the transit operators, with local governments providing funding and otherwise playing an advisory role.
Transit operators are organized as publicly owned companies that run the services, collect fare revenue, and maintain vehicles and stations, and typically manage capital construction. Their size varies greatly, from an operator running a few bus lines to Berlin’s largest operator, BVG, which runs nine underground lines, 22 tram lines, and 1,500 buses. For intercity passenger rail and most regional/urban rail (S-Bahn) services, Deutsche Bahn owns the physical infrastructure while transit agencies tender operations to Deutsche Bahn or other international and private operators.
In Germany, transit capital projects are delivered by a transit agency or by the agency or municipality creating a special-purpose delivery vehicle (SPDV) with the sole purpose of building a transit project or program of projects, which is then dissolved when the work is completed. Smaller light rail and tram projects tend to be directly tendered through the agency, while some heavy rail or exceptionally large tram projects (such as the Karlsruhe Combined Solution, in which the city tunneled all of its tram lines) are carried out using SPDVs. Projects have been built using design-build (DB), design-bid-build (DBB), or public-private partnerships (P3s), though DBB is most common.