ÖBB would benefit from higher car fuel tax, says Kern

Federal Railways (ÖBB) head Christian Kern has claimed that higher mineral oil taxes would be an immense help in the firm’s bid to sell more tickets.The businessman, who previously worked for electricity provider Verbund, told the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper today (Thurs) he was convinced more people would switch to trains if car fuel taxes were increased.He said: “I wouldn’t have any problems as far as the occupancy rate of ÖBB’s trains is concerned if the mineral oil levy was doubled.”One litre of regular car petrol is currently taxed with 44.2 Eurocents. Traffic Club Austria (VCÖ), an independent pressure group for more eco-friendly individual traffic said the government should raise the mineral oil taxation rate next year. VCÖ claimed it was “simply too low” by international comparison.Tens of thousands of residents of bordering countries come to Austria each year just to fuel their vehicles since their own governments issue significantly higher taxes on petrol.Motorist associations like ÖAMTC and Arbö have appealed to the Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) not to increase car fuel taxes to avoid further pressure on commuters taking cars to reach their workplaces. They also stressed the “fuel tourism” has been an immense boost to the state budget and would come to a halt in case of higher taxes on car petrol.A slight increase to the current mineral oil tax rate is expected since the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition must tackle the budget deficit in the coming years after having used millions of Euros to bolster the fragile economy and several banks following the credit crunch.Speaking about the European Union (EU), Kern said: “There is an overwhelming amount of promised commitment to clean mobility, but little real support.”He added: “Politics are in charge and need to make sure they drive the situation in the right direction.”Kern also admitted the Salzburg – Vienna route was the only connection on which ÖBB has been making profit.The state-owned company is bracing for prestigious competition on the route as Hans Peter Haselsteiner announced earlier this year. His new WestBahn business will start operating between the cities in December 2011.The businessman, who heads construction firm Strabag SE, assigned Benedikt Weibel to coordinate WestBahn’s operations. The Swiss manager headed Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) for 14 years until 2006.Kern also stressed there was “no alternative” to laying off 460 staff employed by ÖBB’s representation in bordering Hungary.He said: “There is no other option, and 460 redundancies will just be a first step.”Kern explained most employees facing the sack were currently working in the administrative department.He added: “The works council and the union have been informed. The news won’t come out of the blue for anyone.”Kern also said he intended to continue talks with the Hungarian government about lowering shunting costs in the country.Rail Cargo Austria (RCA), which also focuses on Hungary, was recently identified by Kern as one of ÖBB’s sections to have suffered the most significant losses.It emerged earlier this week that Austrian anti-corruption authorities raided the offices and apartments of former ÖBB managers amid suspicions of bribery connected to RCA’s takeover of the Hungarian railway company MAV Cargo.Hungarian prosecutors asked their Austrian colleagues to assist in investigating amid suspicions that ÖBB decision-makers transferred around seven million Euros of possible slush money to a consulting agency shortly ahead of the acquisition in 2008.State-owned ÖBB has debts of around 12 billion Euros. Kern, who took office in June, said he wanted to get the company back in the black by 2013.