Free Rail Travel Maybe Off Track
The generous plan of the Smer-SD party government to provide free rail transport for children, students and the elderly has not met with complete appreciation, with even a petition set up to try and halt the move, which will cost the taxpayers in the end.
As the free train rides came into effect on Monday 17 November, there was some chaos at train stations despite extra stalls (16 in Bratislava) to deal with the registrations and twelve thousand extra seats on extra wagons and trains up and down the country.
A problem is that the person making use of the free allowance has firstly to register, which led to long queues at some points, with regular passengers complaining they had to get on the train and pay a surcharge as they couldn’t wait.
State-owned rail company ZSSK says it has things under control, but that those waiting on registrations might have to stand around for 15 minutes or more as each one takes a few minutes. The company is recommending people register for travel in advance instead of just before their journey.
On the first day of the new luxury, some 48,000 tickets were issued for free by the rail company, mostly to students (over 70%) who are the ones who will benefit most from the plan. The increased numbers of people travelling on the trains looks like it could also take custom away from the bus services, with another possible knock-on effect in higher fares, reduced services and so on.
An online petition was set up by a civil association called New Generation, with over 22,000 people signing up to it. They have now decided to put a normal petition together.