From November, Austrians will be able to use nationwide public transport — as much as they want and to go as far as they want — for the equivalent of just €3 a day, as part of a radical effort to decarbonise the economy.
At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Austria’s Green ‘superminister’ Leonore Gewessler unveiled the new nationwide Klimaticket — “climate ticket”, heavily subsidised by federal taxes, to boost the use of public transport in Austria.
An annual Klimaticket, Gewessler said, will cost €1,095, and will cover rail, metro and bus networks in cities and everywhere between them, whether privately or publicly operated.
For Gewessler and Austria’s Greens, who entered into a coalition with the mainstream conservative People’s Party of chancellor Sebastian Kurz in January 2020, the gambit is also a bold bet to try to reassert their environmental agenda after months of drift.
Thanks to the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic — and, say more critical voices, Kurz’s tight grip on government policy — the Green Party has so far realised only a handful of its campaign promises.
“I think you can see how happy I am. This is a big day for the climate and for transport,” Gewessler said, speaking in Vienna alongside the governors of three of the country’s most heavily populated regions.
The plan is likely to be watched closely in neighbouring Germany, where the Green Party now hold the balance of power as the country seeks to form a new government following last Sunday’s federal elections — and is likely to be wary of compromising too much of its agenda for urgent change.
Gewessler’s ministry — which covers transports, environment, energy and technology — has faced an uphill battle to bring Austria’s regionalised transport system and patchwork of private operators into a single unified scheme. It was only in recent weeks that an agreement was finally struck to bring all of Austria’s regions onboard.
“If this summer showed us something, it is that the climate crisis has already arrived with us,” said Gewessler, referring to the widespread flooding in central Europe.
The scheme will cost the Austrian taxpayer an additional €150m to subsidise annually, the transport ministry estimates.
Austrian’s are already, in mileage terms, Europe’s biggest users of public transport per capita, according to data from the EU commission.
The Austrian government will present its budget on October 13. One big question that remains to be answered is how much of a role Green policies will play in it. The coalition government’s first budget, last year, was dominated by the coronavirus crisis.
The climate ticket fulfils a Green manifesto pledge but falls short of its promise to make transport within any two Austrian regions available for €2 daily and any one Austrian region for €1 daily.
Opposition parties welcomed the move but said it was only a first step in meeting climate goals. “The price isn’t the reason why people do not switch to public transport,” said Johannes Margreiter, transport spokesman for Austria’s liberal Neos party. “[The problem] is the lack of availability in many places, for example because of bad or missing connections.”
The climate ticket “mainly helps those who already travel by public transport”, Margreiter said.
Austrian social democrats, who have been keen supporters of the climate ticket proposals, meanwhile, warned significant investment to upgrade the capacity of public transport would be needed.