The network you will probably use the most during your stay here is the RMV, the German acronym for the Rhein-Main Transportation Association. This vast network comprises buses, as well as underground and aboveground rapid transit trains. The RMV website (www.rmv.de) has multilingual information and offers a trip planner, network maps and articles on special events in the area and how to get to them. The system is efficient and reliable. Though not exactly cheap, it is not too expensive when you consider the services provided. Let's take a quick look at each part of this network:
Mittelhessen is served by a strong network of regional trains, which includes the Regionalbahn and the faster RegionalExpress. These trains connect most of the major cities and towns in the region and also link up with the national train system. The two main lines in Mittelhessen are the north-south Main-Weser-Bahn (Kassel-Marburg-Gießen-Frankfurt) and the east-west Ruhr-Sieg-Strecke (Cologne/Hagen-Siegen-Gießen). In addition, the commuter train Mittelhessen Express runs hourly during the week to Frankfurt along two routes - the SE 30 (Treysa-Gießen−Frankfurt) and the SE 40 (Dillenburg-Gießen-Frankfurt). And there is a high-speed ICE connection in Limburg, which can reach the Frankfurt Airport in under 20 minutes. From Gießen, Marburg or Wetzlar, it takes about 40 to 60 minutes to reach the airport with the IC train.
Mittelhessen enjoys a broad network of buses, which are all part of the RMV ticketing network but are operated by the city or regional authorities. In the wee hours of the morning, when buses and trains are not running, the RMV now offers an innovative on-call taxi service (AnrufSammelTaxis or AST). Basically, taxis take passengers to the same stops as the bus route and charge regular bus ticket price (plus a nominal extra fee). Important: the service must be ordered ahead of time, so check the RMV website for more details.
Depending on where you come from, you may find the payment system for public transport here a little confusing at first. Most German municipalities use a modified honor system for travel on public transport. That means you buy your ticket or pass before you climb aboard, and you usually do not even have to show it when you enter. The exception is with buses, where after 8 p.m. you have to board at the front of the bus and show your ticket or pass to the driver as you enter.
You can either buy your tickets for individual trips at the many ticket-dispensing machines or buy passes valid for periods of one day, one week, one month or even an entire year. The longer the period, the better the deal. Passes can be purchased at any RMV counter (whose opening hours vary according to the station), at selected ticket machines and at many news kiosks. RMV passes are all transferable, which allows you to lend them to friends or family members when you do not need them. In addition to being a better buy, the monthly and yearly cards have one advantage over the weeklies: after 7 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends, one adult and all children under 14 can travel free with a pass-holder.
Do not think, however, that the honor system is an open invitation to ride for free. It is, as we say, a modified honor system, and those who prove themselves not honorable can expect to pay a penalty. Teams of ticket inspectors, most often in plainclothes, travel around the system, prepared to catch miscreants traveling without a valid ticket or pass. Because inspectors wait until the train or bus has started rolling, there is no way you can alight and escape being caught. If you are caught "traveling black" (schwarzfahren), you will be asked to pay a fine of 40 euros on the spot. If you cannot pay right then and there, you will be handed a ticket with your fine listed on it and where you can go to pay that fine.
If you do not pay within the period listed, you will get a notice at your address (that is why ticket inspectors insist on seeing your passport or some form of personal identity) with an increased fine. Each time you ignore paying the ticket, your fine will increase until, finally, you will be hauled into court. Better just to buy the ticket in the first place. If you feel you have a valid excuse for not paying your fine (just about the only one is that the ticket machine at your station was not working), you can bring it up with the official at the payment office.
Do not try arguing with the inspectors; they are trained to disregard all pleas and sob stories and to leave the matter of appeals to the people at the payment office. The payment office has a chart listing all the ticket machines that were out of operation - and on what days - so make a note of the machine number or station. If the date and time on your fine do not match their records, you pay the fine; if it does, they waive the fine and apologize for the inconvenience. Sorry, no money back for your trip to the office.