I believe that there must be a general rethink, particularly in air transport, and that citizens must be shown that there are alternatives, such as rail transport. But, as always, price plays a major role for the consumer. While today I can travel from Vienna to Barcelona on a low-cost airline for EUR 30, I pay four or five times by train for the same route. In terms of flexibility and punctuality, too, the railways throughout Europe have been lagging behind for years. To this end, we hope that a first step towards improvement would be the development of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), which has enormous potential for many railway lines in Europe. Furthermore, the railways must regain their attractiveness. A fair price adjustment of cross-border ticket sales and travel information must finally be implemented. Unfortunately, all these are “hurdles” that passengers who travel professionally do not want to deal with. In the past, for example, I have spoken out in favour of more passenger rights in rail transport, and meaningful TEN-T projects will also receive my support in future.
In the transport sector in particular, a great deal has happened in recent years in the areas of research and development. In local public transport, Austria is a pioneer when it comes to “clean means of transport”. Austria has a 530 kilometre long electrically operated network in Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Linz, Salzburg and Vienna, including five underground lines, 44 tram lines and 21 E-bus lines.
Last year, I spoke out in favour of significantly strengthening the rights of rail passengers in the EU. Passenger rights must allow affordable and attractive prices. Rail passengers must also be compensated for delays. Cross-border services should be possible in future. One ticket for bus and train, one ticket from start to finish. Cross-border travel by rail must become easier and information about the entire journey must become more transparent. It is precisely in these areas that the consumer has many more advantages and rights in air travel.
In my opinion, very little has been done so far, especially the attractiveness of the railways has diminished in recent years. Blind liberalization is of no use; the focus here must be on improved service offerings and attractive pricing. Furthermore, negotiations must be held with the Member States for the purpose of implementation. The reform must create added value for rail transport and not increased legal uncertainty for companies and investors.
I think the idea is certainly a good one and could be an alternative for tourism purposes. However, I am also of the opinion that the railways alone are not the miracle cure for a better environment. Mobility must not become a luxury and restrict or punish citizens. I am of the opinion that a variety of alternatives is necessary in order to bring the environmental idea closer to the citizens.
The introduction of the high-speed rail network is a wonderful example of how valuable alternatives are being destroyed. Passengers have been forced to choose the new, more expensive product or to leave the railway as a whole. Looking back, it has turned out that high-speed trains are not profitable in their current form. In recent years, more and more high-speed lines have been discontinued and prices on existing lines are three times higher than on a slow train.
In order to improve the situation efficiently, I will continue to support all measures that focus on an “energy mix”. Each Member State, each region and each city have different requirements, and therefore different variants should be supported. Here I would like to consciously mention the current “electrical constraint”. It is right to create new incentives and to promote research into new technologies. In order to actually do something good for the environment, electricity generation for operation should be sustainable, here the EU indirectly promotes nuclear power and coal-fired power plants. Electric vehicles only make sense if the necessary electricity is produced CO2-free. Behind the highly praised backdrops of e-mobility lies the dark reality. For example, 10 kilos of cobalt are contained in every battery of an electric car. Cobalt only occurs in very few countries. Two thirds of the cobalt mined worldwide comes from the Congo. It is mined there under inhumane conditions, often by children. All this speaks in favour of looking for one’s own alternatives and not blindly trusting one variant.
Until now, the rights of rail passengers in the EU have not been clearly defined. A great deal has already been discussed in the Transport Committee. The current plans could be compared with those for air transport, which is to be welcomed. Consumers’ rights must be at the forefront here. Rail passengers, in particular, often receive too little information about their rights. Passengers must be informed of delays, cancellations or other incidents at an early stage.
In April 2011 Austria introduced a so-called flight tax under the guise of a supposed ecologicalisation of the tax system. In recent years, however, it has turned out that the boom above the clouds has not diminished despite the introduction of new levies. Especially in Austria, it should not be forgotten that the Austrian aviation industry is the only mode of transport that finances 100% of its infrastructure itself and thus receives no subsidies from the state budget – as is the case with other modes of transport. In all our considerations, we must also be aware that these are also people and their jobs. The listed Flughafen Wien AG does not receive a cent from the tax pot. On the contrary, the Austrian aviation industry pays around € 2.3 billion in taxes and social security contributions to the Republic. In Austria alone, the aviation industry secures more than 70,000 jobs.
This example in particular shows us that additional taxes or levies do not change flight behaviour and that the goal of protecting the environment was not achieved. In my opinion, we must support our research and development in order to promote climate-friendly alternatives more quickly.
An additional EU-wide kerosene tax makes little sense in my view. My position has always been clear. Taxes which the EU collects or which only benefit the EU are a massive encroachment on the fiscal sovereignty and thus sovereignty of the Member States. That is why I am very much opposed to such proposals. Measures should be taken at national level. Above all, we must ask ourselves the question: what does another tax do for our environment?
I do not think a general ban is realistic. In many cases it makes more sense to travel by train. A positive example of this is the route from Linz to Vienna. The introduction of the direct train connection from Linz Central Station to Vienna Schwechat Airport has led to an increasing number of air passengers switching to rail. Another short route would be the connection from Carinthia to Vienna. Travelling by train takes a lot longer here; with more than five hours, travelling by train is becoming less attractive and ticket prices are also becoming more expensive from year to year. When making transport decisions, you always have to consider the most diverse regional conditions; there is no overall European solution here.