Brussels probes the bus fares in other EU states
Malta may not be the only country in Europe where a bus fares structure deemed discriminatory is in place and Brussels is investigating similar tariffs in other member states.
The European Commission started looking into the situation in Malta after it received complaints, mostly from foreigners, that Arriva’s tariffs discriminated against non-Maltese residents and could be in breach of EU rules.
A year down the line, Brussels is still not in position to say whether the fare structure conforms to EU rules.
The government rejects any discrimination claims arguing that the tariffs only distinguish between residents and non-residents, independently of their nationality, something the EU rules allowed.
European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas admitted the investigation was turning out to be “a very complex issue” because similar public transport tariff structures existed in other member states. In fact, he said the Commission had decided to broaden its inquiry.
Replying to a parliamentary question by British MEP John Steward Agnew, claiming that Brussels was also applying a similar public transport tariff system as that of Malta, Mr Kallas said that a new study should shed light on this complex issue across the EU.
“Since granting reduced tariffs to special categories of passengers, based on local residence and/or other criteria (such as pensioner or student status, disability or other), for local transport is not specific to a few countries but seems to be common practice across a large number of member states, the Commission has decided to undertake a more general assessment of this issue,” he said.
“We will launch a study on public transport policy tariffs with regard to possible differentiated pricing as well as best practice across the EU,” he added.
The findings should provide the Commission with the necessary information to take a well-coordinated overall approach to ensure non-discriminatory pricing in public transport, notably at local level.
When announced in November 2010, Arriva’s new tariff system immediately raised eyebrows in Brussels due to its potential “discrimination” among EU citizens.
According to the new fare structure, those who do not hold a Maltese ID card – including tourists who are EU citizens – have to pay an extra 40 per cent to use the same public transport system offered to the Maltese.
Replying to Roberta Angelilli, an Italian MEP who specifically asked for progress made on the Arriva issue, Mr Kallas gave limited information saying only that the probe was still ongoing but no conclusions had been reached.
He said more detailed investigations were necessary and a third letter had been sent to the Maltese authorities last month requesting further clarifications and information.
The Commission is asking about the tickets sold in various categories for residents and non-residents under the new bus fare system introduced last July.
Clarification was also being sought on whether passengers were asked to produce a Maltese identity card or a residence certificate to qualify for the reduced fares, Mr Kallas said.