Public Transport is the holy grail of the people

Opinion by Begüm Boynukalin, ETF Communications Officer and Conor Farrell, ETF Policy Officer for Urban Public Transport.

Public Transport is the holy grail of the people
Credit: Belga

When you talk about going to work, classes, grabbing drinks & dinner, or going off to the seaside, public transport and the workers behind it are the "to". It's the people's holy grail, and that's why it needs constant investment and care.

YOU, and the workers behind our buses, trains, metros and trams deserve a transport system that operates for the benefit of the people, for the needs of society and our environment – not for private profit.

Case in point: let’s look at what's happening in the UK this week. Strike action is rocking the country – workers and their unions are outraged, and with good reason: the government and companies want to cut funding and jobs. This impacts transport workers and the accessibility and quality of public transport services: a lose-lose situation for everyone. This demonstrates the failures of liberalisation, of making something that serves communities and provides jobs all about profit - proving the importance of keeping public transport in public hands.

London commuters have the highest transport costs in Europe, with monthly passes (zone 1-7) costing close to 350 euros – that's over 350 euros out of your pocket every month just to get to work. This is seven times the cost of a monthly pass here in Brussels and five times the cost in Paris. Why so expensive? For years, the UK's public transport has been in the hands of private operators rather than local public authorities.

Failure to invest in public transport means fares must go up. London raises 72% of its operating income from passenger fares. This financial pressure creates severe staff shortages, with companies' cost-cutting left and right to increase profits. People are paying impossible prices with no improvement in services and financial pressure is negatively impacting wages and work conditions.

Recently, unions and workers in the UK and Belgium marched in the streets to protect people's purchasing power. Why should the people – why should YOU pick up the bill for inflation?

Public transport – well-funded and accessible – is one of the heroes that could save us all. In the face of soaring prices and climate emergency – it is the antidote to both emissions and exploding fuel costs.

The EU's goal is to reduce emissions from transport by 90% by 2050. A sure-fire way of making this happen is right in front of the European Commission's nose: well-funded public transport in public hands. But, as of late, they've taken it upon themselves to make this harder.

Keeping public transport in the hands of public authorities means they can organise their services to meet the needs of their communities – of people. This is guaranteed under Public Service Obligation (PSO) rules – rules that apply to public authorities and regulate how they distribute transport routes – generally to public transport operators, say bus line 95 from Wiener to Grand Place, for example.

BUT, now, Europe wants to open up the market to more competition – private companies – by revising guidelines on the PSO. This will push public transport into the hands of private companies, who will focus on meeting profit targets rather than the needs of the public. And, of course, this will lead to cost-cutting at YOUR and workers' expense – just look at the UK situation.

Europe's unions and workers are fighting to save our public transport – to make it more accessible with better services and fairly priced – shouldn't Europe's political leaders be doing the same? The future is well-funded public transport in public hands with secure jobs for workers – it's the holy grail of the people. So, let's save it.

Tuesday, 28 June the ETF will demonstrate for Fair Transport in Lyon alongside transport unions and thousands of workers to demand decent jobs and defend transport workers' rights, pay and conditions.

About the ETF

The European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) represents over 5 million transport workers from more than 200 transport unions across Europe, from the European Union, the European Economic Area, and Central and Eastern Europe, in over 30 countries.

The ETF believes transport workers deserve dignity and fair working conditions. ETF’s work is driven by its vision for Fair Transport: quality jobs for transport workers with a safe, reliable, affordable transport system.

An opinion by the voices of transport workers: European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF)

Begüm Boynukalin, ETF Communications Officer

Conor Farrell, ETF Policy Officer for Urban Public Transport

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