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Government okays free trains for children, students and pensioners

CHILDREN, students aged up to 26, pensioners and seniors 62 or older are able to travel free of charge on selected trains as of November 17, the government decided at its October 22 session. The measure is part of a package of 15 measures aimed at improving the financial, economic and social situation of people in Slovakia that was drawn up by the Robert Fico cabinet, the TASR newswire reported.

CHILDREN, students aged up to 26, pensioners and seniors 62 or older are able to travel free of charge on selected trains as of November 17, the government decided at its October 22 session. The measure is part of a package of 15 measures aimed at improving the financial, economic and social situation of people in Slovakia that was drawn up by the Robert Fico cabinet, the TASR newswire reported.

The opposition however criticised the step, calling it populist.

Transport Minister Ján Počiatek, who authored the draft of the measure, said that the provision will cost €13 million. These expenditures are already factored into the 2015 budget proposal, which was approved by the government in mid-October.

Students and pensioners will be able to travel free of charge in second-class carriages on trains run by state-operated Železničná Spoločnosť Slovensko (ZSSK) and on the rail service run by commercial carrier RegioJet between Bratislava and Komárno (Nitra Region).

“These provisions apply to trains that are subsidised [by the state],” Počiatek said, as quoted by TASR. “All unsubsidised trains – which means IC [InterCity] trains, EC [EuroCity] trains and/or new unsubsidised train services that will operate [in Slovakia] – will not be subject to this measure.”

In addition, all children of up to six years of age will not need tickets. Those aged up to 15 will have to ‘purchase’ a ticket, but they will not have to pay anything if they present a special card proving their age. Rail transport will also be free of charge for university students of up to 26 years of age if they show their student ID cards or cards issued by the respective rail carrier.

Furthermore, all people over 62 years of age are entitled to free train transport as of mid-November. They will also need to show identification to prove their age.

“This measure is first and foremost aimed at taking away the financial burden associated with transport costs for families and students who study at university,” Počiatek said, as quoted by TASR. “We also think that the measure will help pensioners.”

The government-approved railway transport offered free-of-charge for seniors and students represent a slap in the face of the middle class and all people who work or run a business in Slovakia, responded the opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party.

“Robert Fico is systematically wringing businessmen and the middle class dry with higher taxes and levies, so that he can unscrupulously use our collective money to bribe unproductive groups of our citizens with an eye towards securing their votes,” SaS chairman and MEP Richard Sulík claimed, as quoted by TASR.

The timing of these “benefits” pursues only a single goal: the support for Smer candidates in municipal election, said Sulík.

Also Miloš Moravčík, deputy chair of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), criticised the measure, saying it will divide people into two categories, based on whether they have or have not the access to railway transport. He also assumes that people will have to pay more when travelling by bus, as reported by the SITA newswire.

“The departure of part of the passengers from buses to trains will deepen the losses of bus carriers who will be forced to propose the increase in prices,” Moravčík said, as quoted by SITA.

Radim Jančura, owner of the Student Agency holding, which in turn owns private carrier RegioJet, considers the decision the right of state. The implementation of this right however cannot discriminate against competition, he said as reported by SITA.

Source: TASR, SITA

Compiled by Radka Minarechová from press reports

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