Friday, March 10, 2017

The Weaknesses Of Transport Policy

May I ask a question? How many of you are particularly bothered whether there is a flat-rate inter-island flight tariff or not? May I ask a second question? How many of you are working yourselves up into a lather over a change to the residents' flight discount as it applies to certain group travel that is to be introduced later this month?

If there are any of you, then please raise your hands and make yourselves known. I'm guessing there have to be some. But relative to the amount of media attention both these questions are being given, the numbers, I would hazard a further guess, are disproportionately low. Put it this way, I am unaware of social media (or other forms of communication) having approached meltdown because of public angst.

Citizens' response to both questions has been less to do with the minutiae of the new arrangement for group travel and the proposal for an inter-island flat rate than with their politics. The Balearic government will be satisfied that this is the case. It has spent most of its time in office berating Madrid about absolutely everything. The flights' issues are part of the overall scheme of berating things.

Travel arrangements and deals for people in the Balearics should be as advantageous as possible. Living on islands in the Mediterranean demands that they should be. Government objections to the group travel discount change and its anger with Congress over blocking the inter-island flat rate are understandable within the context of seeking advantages. But both form part of the wider narrative that characterises the current administration. Madrid is the enemy and Madrid does everything in its power to make life difficult for the people of the Balearics.

The regional government wants a completely different overall deal for the islands. It's known as the special economic regime, a somewhat arcane device that involves financing, taxation, transport, infrastructure and more. Madrid is being obstructive in granting a new deal. But is it the enemy that it is made about to be? On financing, on investment, even on the flat-rate tariff, it has expressed willingness.

Penalising the Balearics, as far as the Palma government is concerned, is a political decision because of differing political ideologies and an unthinking one because Madrid fails to recognise the particular needs of the Balearic archipelago. There may be some truth in both these beliefs, especially the latter, but Madrid is commanded by a higher authority. The Rajoy government cannot willy-nilly ignore the requirements of Brussels.

The flat-rate tariff is subject to Brussels approval. The Spanish government cannot just sign it off. The funding for the tariff is subject to the Spanish government's budget, over which Brussels has its say. Twenty odd million more may not be a huge amount in overall terms, but if every region were to come up with schemes demanding such funding - and be granted them - then Brussels would come down on Madrid like a ton of bricks.

The fact is of course that the Balearic government is fully aware of this. European restraints are, however, generally ignored, as they do not suit the government's narrative of Madrid as enemy.

The flat rate had been mooted before the current administration took office, but it was made a policy of this government. It is one of its stellar projects to mark it out in the eyes of the electorate in much the same way as magicking up 120 million euros for Son Dureta will be. (On this, I note that the Partido Popular are asking the same question I have - where's the money going to come from?)

The government has made its demands, and goes further in that it wants the regular residents' discount (which applies to the vast majority of travellers) to be increased. All of this may come to form part of the negotiations over a new economic regime and financing system, but for now they are not negotiable items; they are demands.

Contrast this with another aspect of general transport policy, one over which Madrid doesn't have its say: the bus services to the resorts. The government, which says that it has never had any intention of pressurising anyone (i.e. the taxi drivers and so unlike its pressure on Madrid), has ended up by demonstrating its willingness to back down. The bus services will still go ahead but they are no longer what they were. Yes, they will serve some resorts, but rather than being resort bus services, they are, well, bus services. Four new ones that will meander through places like Algaida and Montuiri.

What really has all the fuss achieved? Very little. The services have been watered down. The government has been shown to be weak. And weakness sums up transport policy. Against the might of Madrid and Brussels, the government squeaks and is left with its constant sniping, designed for electorate consumption.

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