2022 will also be a savings year for the public transport companies

Wooden planks and a glass front in a world of sand. In Hoek van Holland, the construction of the new Strand metro station is progressing steadily. Sometime this summer – the date is not yet known – the last station of Hoekse Lijn will open. And then you drive in 35 minutes from the heart of Rotterdam to the beach in Hoek. Years later than expected, tens of thousands of millions more expensive than planned.

But for Rotterdam’s public transport company RET, 2022 will not only be the year of the long-awaited completion of Hoekse Lijn. It will also be a year of savings just like 2021. The economic problems caused by the corona pandemic are not over yet and state aid may be lost.

“A bitter wind is blowing through the company,” said director Maurice Unck after listing all the cuts. No pay raises, no drinks, no Christmas balls. But also: 5 percent fewer buses, trams and metros, especially during rush hour, and no more conductors on two tram lines. RET will soon lay off fifty jobs (out of more than three thousand) of service employees who, among other things, supervise the metro. The latter point affects the safety of public transport. “And that’s very unwise for the city of Rotterdam,” says Unck.

Extremely painful action, but there was not much else to do, says the RET director. Due to the corona crisis, the company transported far fewer travelers. “In the first corona year, we decided to take the loss,” Unck says. “In 2020, we achieved a negative result of more than 11 million euros. We could not do that for another year. We got everything scraped and saved 15 million. We managed to keep the steering wheel straight, but we had to work hard for that. We went from an acute crisis in 2020 to a financial crisis in 2021. “

Availability supplement

On Thursday, RET presented the figures for 2021. The transport company closed with a plus of 1.2 million euros. Because of random benefits, Unck says. The result of the ordinary activities was a deficit of 1 million euros. Before the pandemic, RET had a profit of 4 to 6 million euros a year.

Also read: Lean corona support postpones depletion of public transport until 2023

Without state aid, the numbers would have been even worse. Like the other public transport companies in the Netherlands, the urban transport company Rotterdam received a subsidy to largely keep to the timetable. In this way, any Rotterdammer who was dependent on bus, tram and metro could still travel. In 2021, RET received 70.1 million euros in accessibility fees. In 2020, it was 71.2 million. The government will reimburse a maximum of 93 percent of the cost; the rest must be coughed up by the public transport companies themselves.

“We are currently carrying 75 to 80 percent of the number of travelers by 2019,” says Unck. “That 20 to 25 percent fewer travelers save us 30 to 35 million a year in income. We still need support – even after this year.”

Whether it will come is uncertain. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management announced last week that the disposal fee will be extended by four months until the end of 2022. Public transport support is the only corona package still in place. But the question is whether the carriers will still receive support in 2023 and later. The sector fears this was the last compensation; the ministry does not want to say anything about it yet.

Climate change

“While we are pleased with the support for 2022, it continues to navigate under extremely uncertain circumstances,” Unck said. “In the coming years, the cabinet will face major tasks for which public transport is indispensable. Take housing construction: 50,000 houses are to be built in Rotterdam, 200,000 in the whole region. Public transport is also crucial in climate change. This year we are using 42 emission-free buses. Then 40 percent of our buses will be climate neutral. One would expect more security from the government to maintain the service also in 2023 and 2024. It is lacking now. ”

Cutting back is pointless, Unck says. “We will soon need today’s people and equipment again. In the light of the port, the government should not let go of public transport. ”

He has a plan ready for the moment when passenger numbers will lag behind in 2023 and the government will no longer offer help. “Then we get 30 percent fewer buses running, 20 percent fewer trams and 5 percent fewer subways. That way we can just close the hole. But then you lose travelers. And then you end up in a vicious circle and you have to cut even harder. You do not want to end up in that situation. ”

According to Unck, downscaling will take at least nine months. That now makes the uncertainty for 2023 great. Are RET employees worried? “It’s starting to itch.”

hyper peak

It is difficult to predict when the number of travelers will return to the level in 2019. Infrastructure and Water Management refers to research conducted by its own Knowledge Institute for Mobility. According to that forecast, public transport from June last year (before omikron) will be back at 97 percent of its pre-pandemic level by 2023. Airlines are fighting it and thinking more about 2024 or 2025.

During the corona crisis, people were regularly urged to travel smarter in the morning rush hour after all the shutdowns and restrictions. Spread more, start work or school later, email and video conferencing at home first. It would help the airlines in their approach to the ‘hypertop’. Fewer peak hours means they have to have less staff and equipment, which means fixed costs are lower. “The Corona was the ideal test site to disperse the peak load,” says Unck. “But it failed. We have not yet seen the real spread we were hoping for. The government should have more control over that.”

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