ÖBB secretly reduces validity of return tickets

Federal Railways (ÖBB) is in hot water after it emerged the company drastically reduced the validity period of return tickets.Austrian newspapers report today (Thurs) that return tickets are valid for just two days as of now instead of one month. Some dailies claim ÖBB did not inform its customers about the change at stations or on its website.ÖBB CEO Christian Kern promised to investigate the reform. Kern did not make clear whether he was involved in the decision to slash the period of validity of return tickets. The businessman said after taking over as firm boss last year that his chief priority was to increase customers’ satisfaction.Kern claimed the previous ticket sale system included various loopholes to ride without a valid ticket. Passenger pressure groups meanwhile called on the company head to take back the change and apologise to customers.Revelations that the validity period of return tickets was reduced to two days come only weeks after ÖBB deciding to stop offering the sale of tickets on short-distance trains. Passengers now have to purchase their tickets before boarding trains at counters or vending machines which have been criticised as being too complex to understand for many customers.The reputation of ÖBB, which has debts of around 14 billion Euros, seemed to have suffered over the past few months amid reports of managers may have been entangled in bribe affairs. The company has been accused of neglecting local railway connections and failing to match the value for money ratio of European competitors.Figures however also show that, among the European Union’s (EU) 27 member states, only the French took the train more often than Austrians in 2009. People in France covered an average 1,361 kilometres via train that year, while Austrians travelled on trains 64 kilometres less.Kern told profil magazine earlier this week ÖBB will not increase its ticket prices in 2011. “Ticket prices should not rise this year. We can save money in passenger services and our infrastructure elsewhere,” he said.The businessman, who previously worked for energy provider Verbund AG, also said he wanted to lower manpower costs by 80 million Euros. This announcement comes after People’s Party (ÖVP) Financial Affairs State Secretary Reinhold Lopatka hit out at the ÖBB board as employees of the company currently retire at an average age of 52. Social Democratic (SPÖ) Infrastructure Minister Doris Bures then vowed to raise the retirement age by 12 months per year in the coming three years of her legislative period.Kern also explained he planned to reduce ÖBB’s staff figure by 1,000. The firm chief said several employees will not be replaced when they retire so this goal can be achieved.