Public transport fares going up, despite pledge

Politicians point fingers over January 1 price hike, while commuters are left holding the bill

You may want to sit down for this one. Riding the train and bus in greater Copenhagen is about to get more expensive – not cheaper, as promised.

The Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF) and Socialdemokraterne (S) campaigned last summer on the promise of slashing ticket prices for public transport by 40 percent. But now that they have won the election and sit in government along with the Radikale (R), ticket prices are actually going to rise – and maybe more than once.

On Monday the state-owned train operator DSB announced that on January 1 the cost of a three-zone, ten-ride klippekort will rise from 180 to 190 kroner, while a two-zone monthly pass will go from 320 to 335 kroner.

These and other fare hikes – some as much as five percent – outstrip average wage increases this year. And the government is not ruling out that prices could rise again in 2013.

The news infuriated a wide gamut of politicians, voters and interest groups – not least those who voted for S and SF, trusting in their campaign promise that an S-SF government would mean lower-priced public transport.

The variable they didnÂ’t count on was R, their powerful coalition partner; and indeed the S-R-SF government is turning out to be a beast of a different colour than an S-SF government might have been.

The governmentÂ’s far left-wing support party, Enhedslisten (EL), didnÂ’t pull any punches in blaming R for S and SFÂ’s broken promises.

“The Radikale laid a lot of weight on preventing more tax increases. Because of that, they’re also to blame that there isn’t going to be money to secure, for example, lower prices for public transportation,” said EL group chairman Per Clausen.

But Andreas Steenberg, the traffic spokesperson for R, countered that the three governing parties jointly agreed to allow ticket prices to rise.

“No, a unified government stands behind the decision. We can’t just tax ourselves out of all the world’s problems. I realise that runs counter to Enhedslisten’s view of the world, which is that you just raise taxes and solve everything. But you can’t do that,” Steenberg told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Anne Baastrup, SF’s traffic spokesperson, conceded that the price hikes belied her party’s campaign promises. She added that “the political will” was still there to lower ticket prices, but that it just wasn’t possible now.

“We don’t have the money. That’s the reality,” she told Jyllands-Posten.

She added that binding agreements made between DSB and the previous VenstreKonservative (VK) government, along with a deficit of over 100 billion kroner left by VK, were the main reasons why S and SF had to renege on their promise and political goal of lowering public transport costs.

“I’m amazed that [VK] could let this happen without anyone noticing – not even you journalists,” Baastrup added.

Venstre traffic spokesperson Kristian Pihl Lorentzen countered that S and SF had simply promised voters more than was possible.

During the campaign, S and SF proposed financing reduced public transport fares with additional taxes on private transport – namely, with a new toll-ring to tax vehicles coming and going from Copenhagen.

But Lorentzen said implementing the toll-ring would cost loads of money before it ever began paying back.

“There would be net losses for the first several years. Yet, at the same time, the government is proposing to use the money from the toll-ring to pay for improvements that would increase capacity [on trains and buses],” Lorentzen told Jyllands-Posten. “They would spend the money several times over. It just doesn’t add up.”

Joy Mogensen (S), the mayor of Roskilde, is another politician who agreed that the government’s public transport policy doesn’t add up – particularly not for commuters.

“In Roskilde we have a public transport system that just doesn’t run,” Mogensen told Jyllands-Posten. “When the trains finally leave, there aren’t enough seats. Then they don’t always stop where they’re supposed to. They’re a mess. That’s why it’s especially wrong to raise the prices.”

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