Today the government has announced that bus users will have to pay a fuel surcharge from January 2009, like air travellers have done for years.
This bizarre plan is the government’s way of funding the 3.5% pay rise for bus drivers – a pay rise which unions and employers agreed, without knowing who was to pay for it. And so who is?
Well, this year transport minister Tineke Huizinga is willing to throw in €16m to cover the cost. But next year, it is passengers who will have to stump up. The fuel surcharge is, in fact, a way of bailing out private bus companies who are forced to charge ticket prices set by the government.
At the same time, it allows the government to stick to its spending targets and to stay true to its pledge not to increase bus fares. By allowing the bus companies to levy an extra fee, the government that is so keen on citizens accepting their own responsibility has once again absolved itself of all responsibility.
It may be an obvious question, but why not let the bus companies set their own ticket prices in the first place? The bus user picks up the bill either way. And the cost of administering this surcharge – which will be payable per kilometre travelled – will probably outweigh the extra income.
There are two other unanswered questions: what will this added complication mean for the introduction of Huizinga’s pet project, the much-maligned public transport smart card system? And how much will tax payers have to cough up for yet another government cock-up?
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