‘European rail operators given until year-end to present ticketing system, otherwise EU will mandate it’
European railways have been given until the end of this year to come up with a ticketing system that is accessible to all via an app, European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans has said in a Dutch radio interview with BNR. “If they don’t, we will enforce it legally. I’m sick of it”, he stressed.
Timmermans’ goal is that is should be easy for every (Dutch) citizen to book an international train ticket using your phone. “People do want to take the train, but you have to make it easier for them.” Cross-continent railway travel is front-and-centre in the Commission’s long-term mobility strategy, and it presented an Action Plan last year. How exactly the mandate for an open rail ticketing system would look like remains unclear.
The Commission announced earlier that it would organise a public consultation on EU-wide multimodal travel in the third quarter of 2021. In the announcement, the Commission said that it would present the legislative proposal on the second quarter of 2022. However, in the Commission Work Programme for 2022, this legislative proposal is announced for the fourth quarter of 2022.
“We have to invest now. I find it hard to stomach that there are still three flights per day between Brussels and Amsterdam when you have a high-speed train connection. Night trains, too, are making a comeback but are often fully booked. We need to free up additional capacity. If you look at what the Austrians [ÖBB, Ed.] and the Swiss [SBB, Ed.] have accomplished, let us be inspired by that. If they can get it right, so can the Dutch and other European countries.”
Privatisation of rail
During his interview, Timmermans also touched upon the topic of whether privatisation is necessary to combat the seemingly excessive ticket prices for such services as the Amsterdam – Brussels high-speed train.
“It is because they are in a position to do this, being always nearly fully booked.” The question of Thalys being a state-owned operator is “honestly not so relevant” in that regard, Timmermans said.. “The capacity should go up. When that happens and there will be empty seats left, prices will go down.”
Also, privatisation of rail has not always had good results, he notes. “Have you seen what the privatisation of rail led to in the United Kingdom? That is also not what you want.” Finally, Timmermans points out that privatisation does not mean that the sector functions without public resources. “In Switzerland and Austria, a lot of government money still goes to railways”.