In a statistic that may head the race of any 2012 competition for the least surprising conclusion, a survey has found that among European Union citizens, Bulgarians are the least satisfied with their country’s rail system.
The tales of woe about Bulgarian state railways BDZ in recent years range from tragic to embarrassing. The Sofia– Kardam fatal train fire four years ago, which left an indelible image of the twisted metal of the coaches scorched on the national consciousness, is only now reaching its conclusion in court.
That has not been the only fire on Bulgaria’s ageing rolling stock, but it has been the worst.
Most recently, the railway network that boasted ahead of the September long weekend holiday that it had laid on extra rolling stock to cope with the additional number of passengers then succeeded in double-booking on a grand scale, leaving standing-room-only passengers who had travelled long hours from the seaside to the capital complaining to the television cameras.
Attempts at restructuring the debt-ridden behemoth led a rail strike some months ago, and the floundering around for a solution has cost the post of one chief executive after another.
One of the few bright notes has been the acquisition, after decades, of new sleeping cars but not all are yet in service. For daily commuters or even those travelling medium-distance, ticket price increases accompanied by reductions in service some months ago was no cause for satisfaction.
Thus the results of the survey, released by European Union statistics office Eurostat on September 24 2012, do not mean a surprise.
Only 18 per cent of Bulgarians expressed satisfaction with the condition of the rail system, beating others in Central and Eastern Europe – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Romania and Greece – in disgruntlement.
The Finns came out on top, at 67 per cent the most satisfied of all EU citizens – though people in Finland were in second place in frequency of travelling by train, after the Swedes. And Bulgarians, in 14th place out of 27, were only just below the EU average for rail travel. For that matter, by the way, commuting by rail is, in Bulgaria, among the least likely reason that someone will be on a train; 72 per cent of Bulgarians polled said that they would be on a train if going on holiday.
Seventy-one per cent of EU citizens support the opening of their national and regional rail systems to competition, with Bulgarians almost as enthusiastic as the average, at 67 per cent. The total support is above 60 per cent in all but two EU member states (Netherlands and Luxembourg). Seventy-eight per cent of EU citizens think that more competition will be good for passengers.
For most Europeans, the opening to competition will have a positive influence on ticket prices (72 per cent), quality of services to passengers on the trains (71 per cent), comfort and cleanliness of trains (70 per cent), frequency of trains (68 per cent), punctuality of trains (66 per cent), the way railway companies are managed (63 per cent) and the number of stations or routes which will be served (62 per cent).
The absolute majorities of Europeans expect that more competition in the rail market will be good for individual stakeholders, such as passengers (78 per cent), private rail operators (68 per cent) and employees of rail transport operators (55 per cent).
Finally, 70 per cent of EU citizens wish that competition leads to “no-frills” rail services like those of low-cost airlines and 43 per cent wish the development of premium services (meals, films, newspapers, etc.). Also, almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of Europeans wish for more ways of buying tickets (e.g. online, via smartphones, or on board).