The National Railway Company of Belgium (SNCB/NMBS) has announced that from February 1st, 2023, tickets will go up in price. “A difficult but necessary decision,” said the board of directors of the railway company, who underlined it is “obliged” to adapt its fares because of inflation and high energy prices. There are roughly 3,800 trains per day, which makes the company the largest electricity consumer in Belgium.
A train ticket will become 8.73% more expensive on average, according to the SNCB. This price increase will only cover a limited part of the increase in operating costs, the railway company says. There is also talk of a differentiated pricing system depending on the time of day the train passes through, and even the profile of the passenger.
Federal Minister of Mobility Georges Gilkinet has already reacted to the announcement. He considers it a bad signal from the SNCB and calls for a total abolition of VAT on transport tickets.
“While Belgians are facing an unprecedented energy crisis and everything is done to attract more travelers to the railroads, including to respond to the climate crisis, such a thing happens,” the minister to news agency Belga. “There must be solutions that do not put the increased costs of the SNCB solely on the shoulders of users. I advocate reducing VAT on train tickets to zero”.
The highest prices are linked to the health index, but to a lesser extent for young people and the elderly. Specifically, starting in February, a ticket for those over 65 will cost €7.80 (+€0.60) and for those under 26, €7.10 (+€0.50). The price of a standard ten-trip ticket (“Standard Multi”) will increase by €9 (to €93 for a digital ticket and €96 for a paper ticket).
The price of school and commuter passes, partly linked to the health index, will increase by 9.73%. The extra percentage (compared to 8.73%) would be due to certain punctuality targets, said the SNCB.
The public transport company stresses more than once that there is no other choice, given the high energy prices. “For the coming year alone, our electricity bill will be 200 million euros higher than in 2022,” the company said. “Add to this the indexation of salaries, as this also has a big impact.”
Despite the aforementioned price increases, the SNCB hopes to welcome not fewer, but more passengers in 2023; the current occupancy rate is 93% compared to 2019. The SNCB says it will do everything it can to attract new customers and continue to make train travel attractive.
The firm is therefore developing new fare formulas, which will be adapted to the time of travel (peak or off-peak hours), as well as to the profile of the passenger. The aim is to encourage young people and the elderly, for example, to opt for rail travel in large numbers. However, special pricing formulas in this regard are not expected before 2024, Sophie Dutordoir, CEO of the SNCB, has stated.