ÖBB suspends disputed return ticket reform

Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has postponed the introduction of a controversial new return ticket system after being flooded with hundreds of complaints.The debt-stricken company reduced the validity period of return tickets from one month to just two days for trips of 100 kilometres and more in December. Reports have it that ÖBB failed to inform passengers about the change on its website or at stations.Now ÖBB announced the reform will come into force only next month. The company explained today (Mon) that it has decided to give customers more time to adapt to the change. It also stressed passengers fined for using return tickets more than two days after their outward run in the past few weeks will get their money back.The company however also made clear that it will not pull out from introducing the change in its ticketing system. Customers will have to make clear when they plan to use return tickets from February. The tickets will be valid on that and the next day only, ÖBB stressed. The Vienna-based firm argued this reform will help it in planning the capacity of trains in operation and the number of staff on duty.Christian Kern, who explained after taking over as ÖBB boss last year that his chief priority was to increase customers’ satisfaction, claimed last week the previous ticket sale system included various loopholes which enabled people to ride without a valid ticket.Meanwhile, People’s Party (ÖVP) Financial Affairs State Secretary Reinhold Lopatka announced ÖBB will cost the Republic of Austria around seven billion Euros this year. Lopatka said every taxpayer would have to fork out 2,500 Euros in 2011 to subsidise the state-owned company which has debts of around 14 billion Euros.Lopatka, one of the most outspoken critics of ÖBB, called for a reform of the railway company’s pensions and service law.ÖBB currently has 42,000 employees. Reports have it that fewer than 1,900 staff retired in 2009, while 3,000 people were hired by the company at the same time.Kern recently called on the government coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the ÖVP to provide ÖBB with 400 million Euros this year. The company boss claimed such an investment could raise ÖBB’s brand value from the current 150 million to one billion Euros.ÖBB achieved a turnover of 3.127 billion Euros in the first seven months of last year, up by 13 per cent compared to the same period of 2009.