By Marco Trujillo and Christina Thykjaer
MADRID – After struggling a bit with the ticket machine at Madrid’s grand 19th century Atocha railway station, 26-year-old Jennifer Bernard Quintana and her sister became the happy owners of free travel passes valid from Thursday.
With inflation near record highs of above 10% year-on-year, Spain’s Socialist-led government hopes to alleviate living expenses and encourage more people to take public transport by providing them with free monthly passes for all local and medium-range intercity routes. Long-haul trips and single tickets are excluded.
“I think it’s a great initiative,” Jennifer, who works in social media, told Reuters.
“I’d love this to be a permanent thing as it would help to make things in general less expensive and we’d have more mobility… this is a good way for the government to invest the money we pay in taxes.”
Her mother Toni, 55, said the discount would help the family save more than 80 euros ($80) a month on her two daughters’ transport cards.
“We need more initiatives like this,” she said. “We parents can’t pay anymore. We don’t have the same budget for doing the same things with our children as we did before.”
Almost half a million people have already pre-ordered the free transportation cards, and state-owned railway operator Renfe expects the scheme, in force until year-end, to result in 75 million free railway journeys.
“It’s very easy to apply and to use. Given the economic situation, for us this is a great help,” said 18-year-old student Anastasia Adamova.
Germany has promoted a similar initiative, starting in June and ending in September, which was a huge success and reduced traffic jams in major cities.
The Spanish scheme, which also includes discounts on other types of public transport, will cost 221 million euros. It is part of the latest aid package to mitigate price rises, approved in June, worth a total of 9.5 billion euros, including value-added tax reductions and Social Security exemptions.
($1 = 0.9976 euros)
(This story refiles to fix date)