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‘No discrimination’ in bus fares

On the bus-stop... How do you distinguish between residents and non-residents? Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

On the bus-stop... How do you distinguish between residents and non-residents? Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Tourists will pay higher bus fares than local residents to ensure that subsidies on the new public transport system are focused in favour of those who pay for them through taxes, according to the Transport Ministry.

For this reason, a ministry spokesman insisted, the difference in bus ticket prices will not discriminate against visitors.

On Saturday, Transport Minister Austin Gatt gave details of the contract to be signed with British transport company Arriva and Tumas Group later this month.

The revamped bus service will be in place by July. The price of a day ticket for residents in Malta shall be €1.50 and that for a seven-day ticket €6.50. Tourists and passengers who do not carry Maltese ID cards will pay higher fares with a day ticket costing €2.60 and a seven-day pass €12. Could this be a formalised type of discrimination against foreigners, similar to the overcharging of tourists in bars or stores?

“Not at all,” the ministry spokesman replied when asked whether this difference in fares was considered discriminatory.

When asked why tourists were being charged more for using the same service as Maltese residents, the spokesman explained that the government would be spending about €4.1 million a year in subsidising lower fares for pensioners, students and children. Another subsidy – of about €700,000 a year in Malta and €1.4 million in Gozo – will be paid for the operation of the system.

“It is fair that subsidies are focused in favour of those who pay for them, rather than non-residents,” the spokesman said.

“All residents of Malta, independently of nationality and including non-EU residents, are obliged to have a Malta ID card and therefore it would be more correct to distinguish between residents and non-residents rather than Maltese and tourists,” she said.

The spokesman added that, with the €12 weekly unlimited travel package, tourists will be offered a high quality product at an extremely competitive price.

“It is unlikely that any tourist can find a cheaper cost of internal transportation in any of our competing destinations.”

So how will ticketing machines make the distinction between residents and non-residents?

“The ministry will not be operating public transport as such and questions on mechanics will need to be discussed with the operator,” the spokesman replied. According to the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, “discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited”. However, the treaty allows for “special provisions” and speaks about “the scope of the treaty”, making its interpretation a very technical exercise.

Malta is already facing EU investigations on the strength of this treaty. In September, the European Commission warned it would launch infringement procedures against Malta if it was established that the higher water and electricity rates being paid by a number of foreign residents amounted to discrimination.

The allegations being investigated are that almost 20,000 foreign residents in Malta are being charged tariffs 30 per cent higher than those paid by Maltese residents.

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