Free Rail Pass in Belgium will cost SNCB €100 million

The free Rail Pass, promised by the government last weekend, will cost the rail authority SNCB an estimated €100 million, according to the authority’s estimates.

At a meeting of the Superkern last weekend, it was decided that everyone resident in Belgium would be given a ticket for ten one-way trips on the train within Belgium. The intention was to encourage tourism within the country as it emerged from three months of lockdown.

However the plan was no sooner announced than SNCB CEO Sophie Dutordoir pointed out that her administration had not been consulted. Nothing about the measure had been discussed, she said, including who would receive the ticket, how it would be paid for and – most importantly in times of a pandemic – what would be the hygienic implications of handing out 11 million free train tickets.

Now the SNCB has produced an internal document on the implications of the government’s decision, De Tijd has revealed.

The procedure would begin with an online request by the person wishing to have the Rail Pass. That would be checked against the national register, ans the ticket – good for ten one-way journeys or five return trips – would be delivered by post.

However, the SNCB estimates, the whole procedure would take five or six weeks, meaning the pass would only be delivered some time around the end of July, or halfway through the summer season.

The Superkern, when announcing the measure, has said the Rail Pass would be valid from July 1 to end December. But that was before anyone consulted the SNCB.

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Now the rail authority has pointed to an advice given earlier this month by the group of experts charged with the exit strategy from the lockdown (GEES), which recommended that public transport should be avoided at peak times, including trips to the coast on sunny weekends.

The SNCB also points to the hygiene problems faced by its ticket inspectors having to check millions of paper tickets handed out by the government.

The rail authority also estimates the cost of the plan at €100 million if only two million people take up the offer proposed last week. The administrative costs alone would cost the SNCB €4 million.

François Bellot (MR), federal minister for mobility, has now instructed the SNCB to launch a tender for the distribution of the ten-trip tickets, according to his spokesperson. The rail authority’s board will discuss the issue on Monday.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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