The Blekinge region in Sweden covers 3,000 sq km and has a population of 155,000. The largest town, Karlskrona, has 60,000 residents. By European standards, Blekinge is quite rural. It has absolutely no road congestion and public transport plays a minor role.
Background & Objectives
Swedish public transport authorities (PTAs) have full responsibility for public transport in their regions. After many years of cost reductions through competitive tendering, costs rose during the 1990s. Blekingetrafiken PTA therefore wanted to reduce costs and, if possible, increase ridership through a net cost contract.
The Blekingetrafiken PTA took the initiative to establish a net cost contract with a certain degree of freedom for the operator to set fares and fix networks and timetables. One operator, Swebus, which covered the whole region, was an indispensable partner in the scheme. The network was decided by Blekingetrafiken and changes were voluntarily agreed between Blekingetrafiken and Swebus. Service intervals were fixed by Swebus. With the exception of school runs, intervals could be changed from 10 to 20 minutes, provided the total number of vehicle kilometres (about 6.5 million/year) was not changed. Swebus had the right to increase tariffs by 10% in addition to raises in the retail price index (RPI). A 5% increase was introduced soon after this right was granted. Swebus’s national Swedish management pressed for further increases and a further 5% raise was introduced after less than a year. Other changes had to be agreed by Blekingetrafiken. Blekinge’s tariff system comprises 10 zones (each local authority has a central and a rural zone). This was never changed by Swebus.
The following changes were implemented by Swebus:
- A degressive tariff was introduced for single tickets.
- Journeys paid with stored-value cards were discounted in percentage terms rather than a fixed amount in SEK.
- Prices for regional season tickets were increased.
- A two-zone season ticket was introduced, aimed at commuters. Previously there were only single-zone and regional season tickets.
- A special night-service tariff has been introduced from time to time.
- Autogiro payment for season tickets was introduced.
The suggestion to drop the summer season ticket was the only change refused by Blekingetrafiken. There were, and still are, separate tariffs for single tickets on trains and ships but the season tickets were and are valid. Train and ship services were not operated by Swebus. Implementing the system was no more complicated than when a normal change of operator takes place after a renewed tender. The actors concerned were the Blekingetrafiken PTA and the operator Swebus. Information about tariff changes also had to be communicated to the national through-ticketing system Resplus (www.resplus.se). Apart from the staff of Blekingtrafiken and Swebus, no other experts or consultants were involved.
In giving operators greater freedom to set tariffs, the relationship between operator and PTA was deemed to be a crutial factor. Operators must be given clear limits concerning tariffs. The trial in Blekinge showed that the PTA was reluctant to hand over the powers they had exercised for decades; and the operator Swebus was not able to calculate its bid properly and it lost money.