Travelers are staying away, so support is still needed, public transport companies say

Public transport in the Netherlands can probably also count on financial support from the government next year. It is still unclear how the government intends to shape this support. This will be discussed this week and next week in The Hague.

For a long time, it was uncertain to what extent Secretary of State Vivianne Heijnen (Infrastructure and Water Management, CDA) would extend corona support to transport companies. In 2020, 2021 and this year, public transport received billions in support (almost completely).

Heijnen previously pointed to positive predictions from the Knowledge Institute for Mobility Policy (KiM), part of its ministry: In 2023, public transport would again transport almost as many travelers as in 2019, before the pandemic. The airlines dispute these scenarios and call the forecasts rosy. For this year, KiM predicted more travelers by train, bus, tram and metro than there have been so far. The number of travelers is now about 80 percent of the number before the corona.

Economic safety net

On Thursday, the NS, regional and urban transport operators, KiM, the Rover Passenger Association and transport authorities (provincial and local administrators who pay for urban and regional public transport) will speak to the House of Representatives Infrastructure and Water Management Committee. The carriers are arguing for state aid after January 1, 2023. Then the current availability charge for public transport (BVOV) stops.

The airlines want a ‘financial safety net’: If the number of travelers is disappointing, the government will step in. If they still get enough revenue from ticket sales, the safety net will not cost the locker anything. Public transport estimates that it will spend around 500 million euros; half to NS, the other half to regional and urban transport. NS also wants the fee it pays to run trains in the Netherlands (the so-called concession fee of 80 million a year) to be dependent on the number of passengers.

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

Without a safety net, there is a risk that the timetable will be scaled down, the transport companies say time and time again. Travelers already have to deal regularly with canceled trains and buses due to staff shortages. If state aid ends on 1 January 2023, the drop-out rate will be more structural because carriers will have to cut costs.

Closes due to congestion

In the three big cities, GVB (Amsterdam), HTM (The Hague) and RET (Rotterdam) forecast millions of deficits before 2023. For 2023, RET expects a deficit of 25 million, HTM of 12 million and GVB even of 55 million. In Amsterdam, this is partly due to the fact that the city expects fewer tourists next year.

RET calculated that “in the worst case scenario” could run 30 percent fewer buses, 20 percent fewer trams and 5 percent fewer subways. 400 of the 3,500 jobs were also to disappear.

Before the pandemic, public transport in Rotterdam grew in some places (for example, beurs metro station) by 10 to 12 percent a year. At the time, the drivers in charge even considered closing subway platforms at times because it was too busy. Then came the corona and the stops remained empty. Currently, occupancy averages 80 percent of that in 2019. During rush hour – the time of day when commuters travel that provides the most benefit for carriers – RET is now only 60 to 65 percent.

A couple of taxis

With the BVOV accessibility tax (1.2 billion euros in 2020, 1.4 billion in 2021 and 140 million this year), the government ensured that public transport continued to operate during the shutdowns, even though there was almost no one on the train, the bus, the metro and the bus tram. “A few good taxis would then have been more convenient,” said Christel Mourik, director of Rotterdam The Hague Metropolitan Area (MRDH) and client for urban and regional transport, during a conference last week. “Now we continue to drive almost completely.” And despite the compensation, it cost a lot of money, according to Mourik.

It is not a matter of course to extend the BVOV, State Secretary Heijnen said through his spokesman. “I can only spend every euro once.” Heijen: “I know we will need public transport badly in the future. To achieve our climate goals, to continue to guarantee mobility in our densely populated country and to ensure that everyone can continue to participate. ”

Eight out of ten low-income people do not own a car and are dependent on public transport, the Milieudefensie, FNV Stadsvervoer and the Rover Travelers’ Association stated in a letter to politicians in mid-June. “Of course, with the current shortage in the labor market, it is crucial for companies that employees can get to work.” The organizations cite a recent analysis for the Tilburg region, which shows that ‘better public transport’ would lead to an increase of almost 50 percent in the number of jobs available for low-income people.

Also read: Craving in the morning rush, will it come back after the corona? That’s what the experts say

In his answer to the question of whether public transport receives new support, State Secretary Heijnen states: “What we see is that the behavior of travelers is different. Students and leisure travelers are back in public transportation, but some of the commuters work from home. It has an impact, of course. I am in dialogue with the sector and the local authorities about what public transport needs in 2023, given the uncertainty and especially the commuters’ changed travel behavior. ”

It is unclear how large the structural changes in travel behavior are. KiM recently predicted that the train will be used 9.2 percent less in the coming period and 8.7 percent less bus, tram and metro. Transport companies and researchers take into account a higher percentage.

Who pays?

It is still unclear who will pay for the new financial support for the carriers. It seems certain that the Ministry of Finance no longer wants to pay for all aid, as it did in the corona era.

One of the topics discussed is a division: state-owned NS will receive a safety net of 200 to 250 million euros from (main shareholder) Finans, and urban and regional transport will receive the same amount from the Ministry of Infrastructure. However, it requires many millions for delayed maintenance of roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Like many lanes on the track, most of the infrastructure in the Netherlands is decades old and paid for by post-war Marshall Aid.

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