Belgian rail raises fares by nearly nine percent

Belgian railway NMBS/SNCB is raising fares from February by an average of 8,73%. The decision for the increase was taken earlier, but the railroad company’s board of directors had yet to give the go-ahead. The price increase is also necessary because Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) secured a lower-than-hoped-for rail budget at the budget talks.

However, the Belgian Federal Minister of Mobility Gilkinet, under whose guardianship the railways are, is not happy with the measure and speaks of a ‘wrong signal’. NMBS/SNCB’s board of directors approved the rates last Friday. The average price adjustment for all products – other than season tickets – is in line with the health index.

Inflation

Commuting and school season tickets will become 9,73% more expensive. A regular ten-ride ticket (‘Standard Multi’), for example, will become 9 euros more expensive to 93 euros digitally or 96 euros on paper.

The railroad company says it was forced to adjust rates to reflect the impact of inflation and energy prices. And even that increase covers only ‘a limited part’ of the increased operating costs, the railroad company says.

NMBS/SNCB says its electricity bill next year will rise to 223 million euros compared to 123 million euros in 2020. The indexing of wages of the 17 000 employees, due to skyrocketing inflation, will also have a big impact, it says.

Simpler fare formulas

With several ‘interesting initiatives’, NMBS/SNCB still wants to keep the train attractive. For example, the railroad company promises regular promo actions, such as last summer’s Duo Ticket, starting during the upcoming end-of-year period. And early next year, there will be a Flex subscription for a few days a week.

NMBS/SNCB is also working on more straightforward fare formulas with, for example, different fares in off-peak and rush hours. Still, these are only for 2024, NMBS/SNCB CEO Sophie Dutordoir has said.

Aiming for VAT abolition

Minister Gilkinet is, in any case, not set up with the price increase that NMBS/SNCB is implementing from February. “A wrong signal, especially at a time when our compatriots are facing an unprecedented energy crisis, and everything is being done to attract more passengers to the rail to respond to the climate crisis,” Gilkinet says.

The Ecolo vice-prime minister says he has been trying for weeks to find solutions so that price increases are not only at the expense of the traveler. Among other things, Gilkinet is considering scrapping VAT on train tickets, a measure he “will continue to defend”.

According to Gilkinet, the VAT reduction will come up as part of the tax reform that the government is discussing before the end of the year. Meanwhile, Green party MP Kim Buyst has a bill ready to scrap VAT on all forms of public transportation.

“Public transport must remain financially accessible to everyone,” Buyst said in a comment. Green also stressed that the train offer must be structurally expanded to make public transport more attractive and accessible “More expensive tickets do not fit into this ambition.”

Cut on tax on gasoline

Mobility organization TreinTramBus also considers the price increase a wrong signal. “The announced price increase is a wrong signal when you know that motorists can benefit from an excise tax reduction on the price of gasoline,” responds Kees Smilde, the spokesperson for TreinTramBus. “The train is a much more sustainable means of transport.”

Currently, Belgium’s VAT on train and bus tickets is 6%. The measure would be a drain on the treasury of 100 million euros, Gilkinet calculated. A price increase is not imminent at the Brussels public transport company MIVB/STIB. The Brussels government is allocating an additional 10 million euros to avoid indexation.

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