In the context of the sixth anniversary of the entry into force of the European Public Service Obligation Regulation and ongoing negotiations on the Fourth Railway Package, UITP decided to organise a conference in Brussels to examine the current state of play across Europe in terms of city and rail transport liberalisation.
The first round table of the day focused on city transport, offering an opportunity to put the spotlight on the current award procedure of public service contracts in various European countries.
Rosario Macario (TIS.PT) gave the audience an overview of major reforms in Portugal, which began under the previous government regarding the provision of public transport (decentralisation). Mrs. Macario also explained the challenges faced during the tendering procedures that recently took place in Porto and Lisbon, which the new Portuguese government has now decided to row back on.
Valérie Beaudouin (Union des Transports Publics et Ferroviaires) and Hubert Jung (DSW21, the Dortmund city transport operator) compared the French and German models regarding the choice of award procedures, highlighting the fact that in France (outside of the Ile-de-France) public transport is largely put out to tender whereas in German cities, operations are mainly taken care of by in-house operators.
Stefan Sedin of the Swedish public transport association, argued that in Sweden, “tendering is an effective way of handing out contracts,” highlighting the benefits in terms of both customer satisfaction and cost efficiency, also noting the intense competition for the market between operators.
Meanwhile Jan Scherp from the European Commission, reminded delegates that in the Commission’s view, the main achievement of Regulation 1370/2007 has been the increased transparency and legal certainty of the contractual relationship between operators and competent authorities, although he also noted that it had had only a very limited impact on the choice of award procedures.
The battle for the rails
The current revision of the PSO Regulation in the framework of the Fourth Railway Package was the focus of discussions during the second round table of the day.
The three MEPs present had very divergent opinions on the opening of the railway market. British MEP Lucy Anderson (S&D) considered that it should be up to individual Member States to choose between competitive tendering and direct award (as long as internal operators do not compete abroad), while Finnish MEP Merja Kyllönen (GUE/NGL) expressed concern that competition will be detrimental to remote areas. French MEP Dominique Riquet (ALDE), on the other hand, bemoaned the fact that “all modes of public transport are progressing except rail” and regretted that the Council’s current proposal weakens the competitive award principle by allowing too broad exemptions for direct award.
Mr. Scherp explained that, in the present state of affairs, the Commission has opted for a rather pragmatic approach and welcomes the existence of an agreement on the competitive award principle. He insisted, however, on the necessity of guaranteeing non-discriminatory access to rolling stock, without which the efficacy of the opening of the railway market would be jeopardised.
The operators’ point of view was offered by Jean-Marc Janaillac (Transdev) and Piers Marlow (EPTO / Arriva). The former argued in favour of competition, stating that it brings “innovation, customer focus and a way to reduce costs in order to make rail more competitive,” also pleading for the transition period for competitive tendering to be shortened. Mr. Marlow meanwhile drew participants’ attention to the importance of wording in the final agreement on the Fourth Railway Package: “If we’re truly keen on a liberalised market then we need to close those exemptions for direct award down.”
Based on the divergence of viewpoints at the event, it remains to be seen in the months and the years to come whether Europe really is “truly keen” on a liberalised market for city and rail public transport.