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Spain regions refuse to cooperate with central government over fare reductions

Source: El Pais - Thu 3rd Mar 2011

Spain's Minister for Public Works, Josť Blanco, has asked the regional governments for Madrid and Catalonia to explain why they are refusing to accept the central government's energy-saving proposals.

On Friday of last week the government announced that they would reduce the maximum speed limits on motorways from 120km/h to 110km/h and reduce train fares on some RENFE communter routes by 5%. The measures are aimed at offsetting the costs of rising oil prices brought about by recent political unrest in North Africa.

Blanco had also requested that the regions made similar reductions in their city-run public-transportation systems.

In Madrid, the ruling PP said if local officials were to reduce the cost of public transport tickets by 5%, it would cost the government 45 million euros just to implement the measure alone. In Barcelona they estimated that it would cost Catalonia 23 million euros to do this.

"If Catalonia and Madrid don't want to participate in this decision, they should explain to their citizens why they refuse to drop passenger fares," said a combative Blanco. The minister said the reductions were the best way to encourage more people to use public transportation and leave their vehicles at home.

Officials in Catalonia were angered by the central government's announcement because they had not been consulted, or even informed about the measure in advance of the announcement "It is like they invite you to drink a cup of coffee with them, everyone drinks the coffee, and then they tell you to pay," a spokesman for the new regiional government commented. "We are not going to tolerate this."

A spokesman for the government in Madrid said the reductions in Renfe fares would affect only a low number of commuters in the region, adding that leaders have ruled out applying the rider fare discounts for Metro and bus passengers.

The Ministry of Industry has also proposed changing light bulbs in all Spanish cities to energy saving models, in a bid to save energy. Studies show that the plan could save as much as 42% in energy costs. However, costs involved for carrying out this work are as yet unknown, but it is expected that the central government would pick up the tab as pasrt of their 'Plan E' initiative.

Elsewhere, Blanco travelled to Galicia, wher he announced that despite what some political sources have reported, the government has not canceled its plans to extend the AVE high-speed train network to the region.

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