Vienna pledges €66mn U-Bahn deal

The Viennese government may have saved 300 jobs by ordering 20 new underground trains.

Bombardier Austria boss Germar Wacker warned yesterday (Mon) his company would be put under immense pressure if the city kept delaying to express the confirmation of an assignment vital to its factory in Vienna-Donaustadt. He explained that the capital’s government intended to acquire 20 U-Bahn trains for the city’s U6 line but failed to seal the deal due to issues about the financial condition of public service provider Wiener Linien. Social Democratic (SPÖ) Mayor Michael Häupl and Greens Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou recently said an upcoming ticket price reform would mean additional annual costs of 30 million Euros.

Now a spokesman for Viennese SPÖ Financial Affairs Councillor Renate Brauner said the city would assign the Austrian representation of Canadian public transport vehicle manufacturer Bombardier to produce the 20 underground trains. The plan is to get Bombardier Austria to deliver the wagons not all at once to avoid paying the full sum of 66 million Euros immediately but in instalments, according to reports from today.

Wacker said yesterday half of Bombardier Austria’s positions were at risk if Vienna pulled out from the contract. Speaking to the Kurier, he explained that the company-internal status of the Viennese facility may deteriorate as another consequence. The factory plays an important part in research and development, Wacker stressed. Bombardier has more than 65,000 in the world. It generates a two-digit million-Euro annual turnover.

The city government is pressurised to save costs due to soaring debts. Vienna’s public debt shot up by nearly 1.9 billion Euros to more than three billion Euros from 2009 to 2010. Brauner argued Vienna had, alongside Tyrol, the lowest per capita debt rate among Austria’s nine provinces at 1,807 Euros. The city’s annual budget report reveals that the government splashed out 2.95 billion Euros on the health sector and social services measures in 2010. No other sector received higher support.

Viennese Freedom Party (FPÖ) whip Johann Gudenus said the SPÖ “must stop praising its fiscal policies of making more and more debts.” He called on the party to do more against unemployment. Viennese People’s Party (ÖVP) officials claimed the city’s Greens may disagree with Brauner’s budget plans for next year as they failed to attend its presentation. The Greens formed a coalition with the SPÖ last year. Brauner said in October that the city government planned to spen 11.8 billion Euros overall in 2012. Earnings will range around 11.4 billion Euros, she explained. Brauner said fighting joblessness would remain one of her chief priorities.

Vienna recorded the strongest increase of unemployment from October 2010 to the same month of the current year among Austria’s provinces at 8.2 per cent. The eastern region of Burgenland was also badly affected (plus 6.9 per cent). Federal SPÖ Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer said an additional seven million Euros would be spent on job programmes for women in the remainder of this year. He pointed out that especially women older than 50 experienced significant difficulties looking for work these days. The money will be spent on “qualification and integration initiatives” for older women out of work, Hundstorfer said without elaborating.

Around 300,000 residents of Austria were unemployed in October. With 3.7 per cent, Austria did better than all other member countries of the European Union (EU) considering the federal joblessness rate in August. The Netherlands ranked second (4.4 per cent). The Institute for Economic Research (WIFO), a leading think tank based in Vienna, said the Austrian unemployment rate would inch up in the foreseeable future due to slower than expected gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

The U6 is one of five U-Bahn train lines in operation in Vienna where over two million people use Wiener Linien’s services every day. U-Bahn operations started in 1976 when a short section of the U4 was put in operation. Already in 1897, the first electric tramway started operating in Vienna. One in three households in the city features at least one person who possesses an annual pass for Wiener Linien’s services, according to the Traffic Club Austria (VCÖ). Its price will shrink from 449 Euros to 365 Euros in May 2012. The price for single tickets will rise by 20 Eurocents to two Euros at the same time.

The organisation also found that public transport had a share of 35 per cent in Vienna’s overall traffic volume in 2009. The city’s government said it wanted to increase the percentage figure by five per cent by 2015. Investments into Wiener Linien’s infrastructure are set to increase to achieve this goal. The purchase of additional underground trains destined to operate on the U6 line is part of the left-wing coalition’s project.