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Pensioner prevails in ticket price wrangle

Wiener Linien might have to brace for serious financial difficulties after an elderly man won an anti-discrimination trial.

Herbert Sedwig took the Viennese public transport provider to court for abusing Austrian gender equality regulations and European Union (EU) anti-discrimination laws. The 62-year-old resident of the capital refused to accept paying more for his annual pass than women of the same age. Wiener Linien charged female pensioners aged 60 and above half the regular price for annual tickets for years while men had to wait until turning 65 to benefit in the same way. The company allowed men aged 60 and older to apply for a half-price annual ticket only last January.

Now the Vienna-Innere Stadt district court ordered Wiener Linien to compensate the plaintiff with 458 Euros which is the amount he lost out in 2010 and 2011. Judges also said the company which had 839 million passengers in 2011, up from 612 million in 1990 must also pay another 500 Euros to the pensioner for affecting his quality of life. A spokesman for Wiener Linien said yesterday (Thurs) the company would appeal the verdict.

Legal experts expect the public transport agencys appeal to fail. They consider Sedwigs lawsuit as a test case which could be followed by a large number of similar cases. More than 20,000 male pensioners are buying annual Wiener Linien passes a year. Many of them are aged between 60 and 65.

Wiener Linien is supervised and funded by the city of Vienna. It currently gears up for increasing passenger figures following the city coalitions decision to lower the price for regular annual tickets by 84 Euros to 365 Euros. The price reform was announced last October and set to come into effect this May. Single tickets will become 20 Eurocent more expensive. They will then cost two Euros. The price for a weekly pass is about to climb from 14 to 15 Euros. Individual transport experts and Wiener Linien chiefs expect the number of people using undergrounds, trams and buses to climb nevertheless.

The Peoples Party (VP) and the Freedom Party (FP) warned the city government of Social Democrats (SP) and the Greens that Wiener Linien could find it hard to cope with more passengers. The opposition factions also claimed that the price reform would not help to rake in more money but rather increase Viennas debts.

SP and Greens said in December that a charge colloquially known as U-Bahn tax would rise by 177 per cent. All firms based in Vienna which employ at least one person aged 55 or younger for 10 hours a week or more must pay the tax. All revenue is spent on public transport infrastructure improvements and new U-Bahn connections. The levy was introduced in the 1970s. The latest increase means that companies have had to pay two Euros per employee a week since last January.

Austrians took trains, buses, trams and underground trains an average 2,910 kilometres (km) in 2010, according to a survey by the Austrian Traffic Club (VC). Only Czechs (3,010 km) had a higher per capita public transport usage rate that year among European Union (EU) members. The EU average was 2,010 km, VC said, adding that Lithuania came last (960 km).

Vienna Times

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