Vienna to increase public service fees

Services provided by the city of Vienna to its residents will become more expensive in less than half a year, it emerged yesterday (Weds).

The capital’s government coalition of Mayor Michael Häupl’s Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the Viennese Green Party said services like waste disposal and tap water supply will cost around six per cent more as of 1 January 2012.

The city traditionally ups these rates if the so-called consumer price index increases. The index – which informs about average price rates for products and services on offer in Austria – rose by nearly three per cent last year before soaring another 3.3 per cent. These developments mean that some services offered to inhabitants of Vienna will be six per cent more expensive in 2012.

The city’s government can veto the regulation. However, the coalition is not expected to do so this time around as Häupl ruled out such a move a few weeks ago. Christine Marek, who heads the Viennese branch of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), branded the upcoming price hike a “disgrace.” Marek pointed out that the Greens harshly criticised the automatic increase of prices when they were part of the city parliament’s opposition. The ÖVP Vienna boss added her party successfully vetoed an increase of prices when it formed a coalition with Häupl’s faction.

David Ellensohn of the Viennese Green Party – which is headed by Vice Mayor Maria Vassilakou – defended the step. The councillor argued the increase of costs of some services needed to be financed somehow. He appealed on the federal government coalition of the SPÖ and the ÖVP to introduce a tax on assets. FPÖ Vienna official Johann Gudenus claimed Vienna’s left-wing coalition was “expropriating” the 1.7 million residents of the city.

The upcoming price hike will also affect the costs of car parking tickets and Vienna’s effluent disposal services. News that these products and services will become dearer in January comes on the back of reports that Wiener Linien, Vienna’s public transport provider, may lower the price for annual passes.

Die Presse claimed earlier this month that the firm – which is supervised by the city coalition – would reduce the price from its current 449 Euros to 365 Euros. The SPÖ-Greens administration reportedly hopes such a move will encourage more residents of Vienna and its suburbs to switch to trams, buses and U-Bahn trains instead of taking their cars to get to work. Experts have warned the city must take action against the soaring level of car traffic on the most important routes connecting the province of Lower Austria with its 23 districts if it wants to reduce fine dust pollution.

The allegedly upcoming Wiener Linien annual ticket price reduction could be implemented as early as this autumn, according to Die Presse. The Viennese daily paper claimed the public transport firm would raise the price for single tickets and other passes at the same time to finance the reform. The Greens campaigned in favour of a reduction of the price for annual passes to 100 Euros ahead of last year’s city parliament ballot. The vote, which took place in October, served up losses for all parties but the right-wing FPÖ.

It has to be seen whether the public services price hikes will help SPÖ Vienna Financial Affairs Councillor Renate Brauner in her bid to drag Vienna back in the black. Brauner explained in 2010 the city government would spend 11.43 billion Euros in 2011. At the same time, earnings would range around 10.81 billion Euros, according to the councillor. Such amounts of revenue and expenditure would increase the city’s debt to around almost three billion Euros.

Especially various labour market initiatives cost the SPÖ-Greens administration a lot of money. Vienna and the southern province of Carinthia were the only two of Austria’s nine provinces which registered rising unemployment rates in the past months. Brauner recently emphasised that more people than ever before had a job in Vienna at the same time.

Only four per cent of Austrians were out of work in June, according to Eurostat, the European Commission’s (EC) research and statistics authority. Viennese officials announced earlier this month that 6.9 per cent more residents of Vienna had no job in July 2011 than in the same month of 2010.