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Germany and beyond: Inter-city car pooling with Mitfahrzentrale

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Sharing a ride. Photo by fragglerawker 03.

We were checking out the German tourism office’s new “budget travel” section on their website today and came across their article on saving money on transportation in Germany. Most of the tips were helpful, and included train discounts (for weekend travel), cheap inter-city bus travel, city transportation passes, and even bike programs.

Share your ride!

The tip that caught our eye, however, was the “Mitfahrzentrale” shared-ride service, in which automobile drivers traveling between German (and other European) cities offer up seats in their cars. Passengers joining the ride are responsible for paying only their portion of the trip’s expenses (usually covering just gas and tolls).

The car-pooling service is hardly breaking news–it’s been around since 1998 and has 700,000 registered members across Europe. Yet, it’s still not well-known to many non-Europeans.

How it works

Mitfahrzentrale is free to join and registering is a quick process. As a passenger, you simply type in the cities you hope to travel between, a date, and time (if you’re picky). The results display a list of all drivers traveling that route, departure times, how many free seats they have, and any special concerns (smoker, non-smoker, languages spoken, etc.).

The program, unsurprisingly, can cut inter-city transportation to a fraction of the cost of other methods. Beyond budget benefits, sharing a ride has some surprising social perks: Drivers, some of whom make a particular trip very regularly (for example, between Berlin and Hamburg), are able to talk to passengers during the trip, breaking the monotony, while cutting their own costs. Of course, anyone in the car could strike up a potentially long-lasting friendship.

Safety concerns

The system, however, might strike others as a bit risky. After all, who is this driver? And who are these other passengers?

Mitfahrzentrale has thought that through, of course. Passengers initially email or call the driver in order to arrange the pick-up and drop-off details. They then are encouraged to share the driver’s phone number and personal info with others, for a “safety check.”

Also, passengers and drivers may write reviews and testimonials of each other, in order to know whose car you’re about to step into. And finally, users may validate their identity by faxing in a photo-ID, which gives them “safe user” status. (Read more safety information.)

The basic service is free and open to all to join, although a “premium membership” (which costs about €20 a year) allows you to see phone numbers (side-stepping the need to email first).

Tell us what you think.

Have you used Mitfahrzentrale? How was your experience? Would you recommend it to others–and to tourists? If you’ve never used the service, would you consider it? Tell us below!

About the author

Tom Meyers

About the author: Tom Meyers created and launched EuroCheapo from his Berlin apartment in 2001. He returned to New York in 2002, set up office, and has led the EuroCheapo team from the Big Apple ever since. He travels to Europe several times a year to update EuroCheapo's hotel reviews. Tom is also a co-host of the New York City history podcast, The Bowery Boys. Email Tom. [Find Tom on Google Plus]

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3 thoughts on “Germany and beyond: Inter-city car pooling with Mitfahrzentrale”

  1. yes its been there in Germany for much longer. I did Frankfurt to Dussoldorf in ’91….it was the cheapest option then and was with no prior booking…. just walk in and get whatever was there. Looking for Paris to Frankfurt/ Amsterdam now in 2011 but dont know where to find…any idea?

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  2. indeed I used it in the very early 80s and late seventies already ! its been around for ages in germany not so much europe I am afraid

    just to put history straight …. as ikea sucked up the market regarding home made furniture by producing them cheaper than one could built them -even from wine crates – Mitfahrzentrale was the commercial outcome of hitch-hicking wasn’t it !?!?

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  3. 1998? I think I first used Mitfahrzentrale in 1985 or so and it wasn’t new then.

    A useful and convenient way to get around, but not always faster (and generally more expensive) than simply hitchhiking which was always very good in Germany (I haven’t hitched in Europe since around 1990).

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