Public transport subsidies to be slashed

Further government cost-cutting will lead to a reduction in state subsidies for public transport tickets and the hiring of new staff on lower wages and benefits, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Dimitris Reppas said yesterday. Speaking in Thessaloniki, Reppas said that the government could not continue subsidizing ticket prices as heavily as it is at the moment. Currently, about 70 percent of the cost of tickets is paid by the state but Reppas said that this would be reduced to between 50 and 60 percent. This suggests that ticket prices are set to increase as of January 2011 but the minister said that this was not a given. «We have not made such a decision yet,» he said. «You cannot examine this issue in isolation from other things. For example, if we are able to halve fare dodging [roughly one in four passengers fails to pay for a ticket], then we will not need to hike the cost of tickets. «If fare evasion increases because there is no effective inspection mechanism, then the state will have to invest huge amounts or we will have to increase ticket prices.» Reppas suggested that the job of inspecting passengers’ tickets may be turned over to a private company. He made it clear that other steps would have to be taken to rein in spending on public transport. Public transport companies in Athens alone owe almost 3.5 billion euros. In the capital, the new cost-cutting measures will include the merging of the companies that manage the metro, the Kifissia-Piraeus electric railway (ISAP) and the tram into one organization and the creation of one body to run the buses and trolley buses. Nevertheless, Reppas insisted that the mergers would not lead to employees being sacked. He suggested that a similar scheme to the one that will be employed at the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) would be followed, whereby some staff might be moved to other departments where they will be paid less. «We choose to say clearly and with certainty that there will not be any firings,» said the minister. However, he added that any new hires would be paid according to the pay structure in the wider public sector and would not enjoy the salaries and benefits that have been built up over the years for certain public transport workers.