Firstly, we laughed out loud yesterday at the news that that great Christian and patriot Marian Munteanu was, during the communist period, a willing Securitate informer. Munteanu, you may remember, is the fascist who was, for five minutes before decent people everywhere objected, the PNL’s candidate for mayor of Bucharest.
Next, our new mayor Gabriela Firea has vowed to make public transport in Bucharest free.
The idea (pinched from Tallinn, which has had free public transport for a number of years) is not without merit, and we are not in principle opposed to it. The problem is that free travel is currently a luxury that RATB – which operates public transport in Bucharest – cannot afford.
RATB loses money – heaps of it – every year. It needs to be heavily subsidised, and making public transport free for all (and doing without the 177 million lei raised in ticket revenue) will only increase the size of the subsidy. That will in turn reduce the amount which can be spent on investment in new buses and trams: a paltry 33 million lei in 2015.
And yet the real problem with Firea’s plan is not cost. No, the problem is the idea that all that’s preventing Bucharest’s car drivers from jumping out of their cars and on to a bus or a tram is the 1.30 lei it costs to buy a ticket.
RATB’s problem is not the price of a ticket. No, it is the crowded, foul-smelling buses and trams which run at infrequent intervals which make public transport in Bucharest so unpleasant. That and the fact that there are no dedicated bus lanes: buses (and even most trams) are forced to sit in the same traffic as private cars. To put it simply, there is no advantage (metro aside) in using public transport in Bucharest. Until there is, you can’t expect people to get out of their cars. Free travel is a populist gimmick.
Fortunately, it is unlikely to happen any time soon: Firea said public transport would be free ‘only when it was possible.’ Read: never.
Last one today: parliament yesterday passed yet another stupid law, this time one which requires supermarkets to stock at least 51 per cent Romanian produce. This is unworkable, populist nonsense which at best will lead to more expensive food. At worst it could see a return to the days of empty shelves. We explained why this was a really bad idea last year.