François Bellot, federal minister for mobility, has told the national rail authority SNCB the government has no intention of going back on its promise to provide all Belgian residents with a free pass for ten railway trips.
Bellot’s insistence comes after the SNCB complained that it had not been consulted on the measure, agreed on 6 June by the so-called Superkern, made up of government ministers and representatives of other parties.
The SNCB argued that filling the trains by offering free tickets was not the best idea from a health point of view, and its board instructed CEO Sophie Dutordoir to inform the government that the plan could not be carried out in the form announced.
The authority was also concerned about a loss of revenue. The lockdown saw the SNCB losing €70 million a month. Now the free pass would present it with a bill for at least €100 million in lost ticket sales.
That figure is notional, since many of those using the free pass would not otherwise have paid for tickets, but some loss of revenue is a certainty.
The Superkern, meanwhile, revised its proposal at its meeting this past weekend.
Under the new terms Bellot will bring to the negotiating table, the pass will be given only to those who request it, with an online application. Measures will be taken for those with no access to internet.
The tickets will be in the name of the person applying, which is not a condition applied to the 10-trip Rail Pass on sale by the SNCB.
The system will come into action when a partner has been found to create and administer the online application process, as well as the distribution of the tickets by mail. The SNCB had complained of the administrative burden of dealing with requests for free tickets at railway stations.
Given that the contract has to be put out to public tender, it is not clear when the tickets will become available, or until when they will be valid.