No compulsory tenders for urban public transport

6 July 2007

No compulsory tenders for urban public transport

Parliament decided this evening that the public transport systems of the country's four biggest cities need not be put out to tender. SP public transport spokesman Emile Roemer described the decision as an important break from longstanding trends. “Parliament recognises that the market is not always the best mechanism for public transport. The SP's longstanding resistance to privatisation is clearly bearing fruit. Without us urban public transport would have gone to the highest bidder and we would have been faced with a host of new problems."

The decision follows a recent agreement between the Council of EU Transport Ministers and the European Parliament to reject a proposal from the European Commission that all public transport throughout the twenty-seven member states should be put out to competitive tender. Had the Commission's original text been approved, moreover, only commercial considerations would have been eligible to be taken into account. Safety and environmental records, working conditions, access for people with disabilities and any other non-commercial criteria would have been discounted. Because no town or city in Europe can offer a profitable public transport system for sale, contracts would have gone to those firms, invariably multinational corporations, able to run the system with the least support from public subsidies. As the transport ministers recognised, this would have gone against the EU's own commitments under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, quite apart from leading to job losses, higher rates of accidents for staff and passengers, and a generally inferior service. Fortunately, under the European Parliament's proportional system for distributing responsibilities, the United European Left, the political group in the European Parliament in which the SP participates, was awarded the 'report' on the Commission proposal, and SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer was given the task of leading the resistance. Fortunately, Meijer was able to marshal arguments so clearly a product of simple common sense that a broad consensus was achieved across the different political groups and the worst aspects of the proposal annulled.

Emile RoemerThe result is that provided the public transport systems of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague perform well, they will be able to continue in public ownership for the foreseeable future. “A halt has been called to further privatisation of public transport," said Emile Roemer. "The next step is to reverse it." Unfortunately a proposal from the SP to that effect proved a step too far for Parliament.

Another proposal from the SP, that an inventory be drawn up of the results to date of public transport tenders throughout the country did win a majority. “In recent years the fact that tendering has been a complete washout has become ever clearer," said Roemer. "Services have deteriorated, there has been an increasing decline in passenger numbers, bus routes have been axed and working conditions have got worse." The SP wants to see the results of this tender system inventoried and a parliamentary majority supported this demand in the last round of votes before the summer recess.

Thanks to the work of SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer, the European Parliament had, as noted above, already expressed severe criticism of the compulsory tendering-out of urban public transport, eventually winning the agreement of the transport ministers of the member states. Major Dutch cities had also already voiced their opposition. Under pressure from the threat of compulsion, Utrecht, one of the four biggest cities in the Netherlands, had already sold off its public transport system. Two others, The Hague and Rotterdam, had begun the process of issuing a tender. But if these cities are in fact happy with their current transport systems, they can now leave them as they are. In addition, Amsterdam will now be allowed to follow the democratically expressed wishes of its citizens, who recently voted overwhelmingly in a local referendum for public transport to remain in public ownership.

You are here