Madrid subway. © DR
The economic crisis affecting Spain which provoked early parliamentary elections November 20, 2011 with the arrival of the Conservatives, led the 17 autonomous regions to reduce their budgets and investment in public services.
José Luis Zapatero, previous Spanish prime minister, had already asked the regions to align their budgets in line with the austerity measures taken by his government to achieve the deficit target of 4.4% of GDP in 2012.
The pressure of financial markets in late October 2011 with regions being downgraded (Catalonia, Andalucia, Valencia, Murcia, Madrid, Basque Country, Castile-Leon, etc..) worsened the situation. Funding for major infrastructure projects, sometimes excessive like the Ciudad Real airport (72 000 inhabitants, 500 million euros and not a single commercial flight), and limited access to bank loans, forced these local authorities downgraded by the Moody's to suck their cash reserves and to tighten their belt.
Wage cuts for bus drivers in Barcelona
In Catalonia, the second largest Spanish region in terms of population and economic power, the 2010 local elections led the Generalitat - the local government - to reduce the number of beds in hospitals, to cut wages in health sector, and perhaps those of bus drivers and metro in Barcelona.
The metropolitan area of Barcelona has not yet decided the 2012 budget, "everything was suspended on November's elections as the local government knows that it will have to make steep cuts, but the transport authority has already reduced investments. Wages cuts are in the air and ticket fares increase too, at least to keep up with the inflation rate, says Albert Casanovas Mon, a representative of Transport of Barcelona (metro and bus).
First project directly impacted, Barcelona metro line 9, the longuest European automatic metro line. Only 11 km of the 46 planned by 2014 have been made. For now, Barcelona bus services have not been reduced, "unlike other Catalan cities such as Lerida, where a number of night buses have been removed," says Albert Casanovas. Other regions drastically reduced their spending to control deficit. In Castilla-la Mancha, the conservative party decided an emergency plan to reduce the budget by 20% in education, hospitals and decided the end of social tariffs in transport for people over 60 years.
Suburban train but forget about the tram
In Madrid, where the Conservative party is in power since 2003, the regional government uses the same recipes : reduction of the number of teachers, cultural and subsidy cuts and no investment for transport. The transportation budget of the region still accounted for 840 million in 2010 (4.5% of its total budget) but on the other hand, the city of Madrid has reduced the budget for mobility and transport. The Municipal transport company (EMT hic operates city buses) saw its budget drop from 8% in 2010 to 5.5% in 2011.
At the same time, ticket fares increased by 3.4% in 2011 (+ 2.4% inflation + 1% VAT) while traffic fall by almost 16% since 2006 : 420,000 passengers in 2011 versus nearly 500 000 before the economic crisis.
But the transport authority of Madrid has scheduled few metro kilometers in the 2007-2011 investment plan : 13 km versus 50 km between 2003 and 2007. Off the 13 km of metro lines planned, only nine have been made."Cuts were necessary because the subway system grew rapidly (over 150 km of new lines in less than 10 years) bringing down the bus traffic,"says Gregory Carmona Ruz, a consultant at Solutrans, a Spanish company specialized in transportation.
No self service bikes but car sharing systems
However, as the Spanish government wanted to invest in infrastructure to counter the effects of the economic crisis, Madrid region has successfully negotiated a plan of expansion and modernization of the suburban rail system "Cercanias". Five billion euros for line extensions and a new east-west line via Madrid.
Given the scarcity of resources, investment choice was made at the expense of Bus rapid transit (BRT) projects and trams. Of the 19 km tram line expected, none have been created. Same thing for the 36 km BRT lines, stopped in 2009.Only a new bus express line running 24 hour a day from Madrid to Barajas Airport became operational in October 2010.
Budget constraints (and perhaps a lack of political will) forced Madrid to postpone the development of self service bicycle, Mybicy, and to cancel the Bike Plan which included 575 km of bike paths in 2016 as well as the creation of an Bicycle Office with a 128 million budget. However, car sharing systems is now part of the mobilty solutions in Madrid with private investors (Connect by Hertz, BlueMove, HelloByeCars and Respiro).
Wage cuts for Madrid metro drivers
Zapatero's austerity plan which aimed at saving 15 billion euros in 2011, included a 5% wage cut for civil servants. Originally, this should not apply to public transport companies, but the Madrid region (100% shareholder of Metro) decided to extend this measure to metro drivers "in solidarity", explains Gregory Carmona Ruz. All privileged" officials considered "have seen their wages cut down by 5 to 10% in 2009-2011".This decision provoked several days of strike paralyzing the Madrid metro.
Will other wage cuts in public services be on Rajoy's agenda, leader of the new elected government in response to the economic crisis in Spain where over 40% of people less than 26 years old are out of work?
Will other regions decide wage cuts and increase ticket fares ? "I know that Barcelona transport authority is thinking about it," says a Catalan spokesman.