Oslo’s new Labour-led government was unveiling its first city budget on Wednesday, highlighted by major improvements to the Norwegian capital’s public transportation system. It will cost users, though, with ticket prices due to rise by as much as 8 percent.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that the promised improvements to Oslo’s heavily used bus, tram and metro lines won’t be any free ride: City politicians have hammered out a compromise that calls for the first fare increase in nine years that will be higher than the cost of living.
Oslo already has among the highest fares for public transport in the world, with single tickets bought on board costing as much as NOK 50 (USD 6). Fares drop when they’re covered by long-term passes that are paid for up-front or in advance, to around NOK 30, but now it appears that all forms of fares will rise. Aftenposten reported the rise will amount to around 4-5 percent in addition to the local inflation rate, now running at around 4 percent itself.
“What many don’t realize is that ticket income only covers around half of what it costs to operate public transport in Oslo and Akershus (the county surrounding Oslo),” said Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, the top city politician from the Greens Party (MDG) who’s now in charge of environmental and transport issues in Oslo. “That means that Oslo and Akershus are already subsidizing Ruter (the transport system) and Ruter’s passengers with half of what their travel actually costs,” Berg added in defending the looming fare hikes.
She also noted that the final numbers, which haven’t yet been public, were a result of tough negotiations with the Conservatives, whom she claimed demanded the fare increase so that road tolls for driving into Oslo wouldn’t rise even higher than they’re expected to as well. Berg told Aftenposten that raising fares for the so-called “collective” transport she wants everyone to use (instead of driving) “wasn’t my first choice. At the same time, I don’t think it’s so difficult to defend. We see now that we’re making huge improvements to the transport system. We have the financing for the big projects folks have been waiting for so long.”
They will include not only the introduction of new trams but also the extension of tram lines, with, for example, the #12 trams from Majorstuen now all running up to Kjelsås instead of ending at Disen. Both the tram, bus and, most importantly, metro lines will also run more frequently in the evenings and on weekends. Capacity will be further expanded during the commuter rush hours.
More metro departures
There’s great demand for the metro (T-banen) to run later at night and that’s likely to be met. City officials also say that key cross-town commuter bus lines like the #28 between Helsfyr and Fornebu and the #34 between Tåsen and Ekeberg will have more departures during the morning and afternoon rush. There will also be more frequency on the bus lines between downtown Oslo and Lørenskog on the city’s northeast side and between Grorud and Holmlia.
Berg claims the improvements are meant to accommodate passenger growth of up to 10 percent. “Next year we’ll really see the green shift in the transport sector,” Berg said. “Oslo has huge challenges with air pollution that can be a health hazard. Road traffic is the biggest source of emissions. We’ll also continue to roll out our emphasis on bicycling.”
That’s already well underway, with new bike lanes steadily replacing street parking, much to the despair of car owners with no access to garages in the downtown area. Hundreds of parking places on the streets have disappeared and those remaining have been been slapped with higher fees and restrictions that make it all but impossible for motorists to leave their cars for more than two hours at a time. While residents get some advantages and parking preference, the message from Berg to commuters is clear: Don’t drive your cars to work in Oslo anymore. Her small Greens Party did well in last year’s local elections, well enough to win government power in several cities including Oslo, and she hasn’t wasted any time in following up on her drive to penalize motorists and reward cyclists, walkers and public transport users.
“We want many more people to use public transportation,” Oslo Mayor Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, which governs with the Greens and the Socialist Left (SV), told Aftenposten. “Those (conservative politicians) who ran the city for the past 18 years did not plan for the huge growth Oslo is experiencing. The city has grown by 50,000 in recent years and will grow by another 200,000 over the next 20 years.” Oslo’s new status as being among the fastest-growing cities in Europe demands much better ways of moving people around the metropolitan area, despite the costs.
Eirik Lae Solberg who represented the Oslo Conservatives in transport negotiations, said his party wasn’t the only one calling for public transport users to share the costs of the major improvements planned. “We looked at this as part of a bigger cost-sharing project, whether it includes a new tunnel under the city for the metro, a new rail line to Fornebu or an expanded E18 highway. It’s important to remember that public transport will still strengthen its competitive position compare with driving a car, which will be much more expensive.” Those still opting to drive face much higher road tolls, higher fuel taxes and, not least, severe parking challenges.