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Why Denmark’s regional bus services could face crisis

Rising gas prices and declining passenger numbers have put unprecedented stress on Denmark’s regional bus network, according to authorities in the Nordic country.

Why Denmark’s regional bus services could face crisis
Danish regional buses have overstepped budgets due to a fall in passenger numbers and high fuel prices. File photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish Regions, the authority responsible for administration of regional bus services, has called for urgent relief for the sector as a result of high fuel prices and low passenger numbers.

Up to one in seven regional bus routes – public buses that connect cities, as opposed to local bus routes – could face cancellation if budget excesses are not addressed, the authorities said.

So far in 2022, transport budgets have incurred an additional an additional 233 million kroner in costs, Danish Regions said in a statement.

Meanwhile, regional bus traffic has fallen by between 10 and 20 percent compared to pre-Covid-19 figures.

High fuel prices have worsened the problem further by bloating costs for operators.

The deputy chairperson of the Danish Regions, Stephanie Lose, an elected official, said that financial support must come from the state to avoid cancellation of regional bus routes.

“I don’t think we’ve been in a situation where there’s been such drastic pressure on public transport as there is now, because of the extraordinary circumstances,” Lose said.

“Normally [Regional authorities] would solve it when it is to a smaller extent, but we are talking about some drastically large budget excesses. We can’t solve that just by shifting things around,” she said.

Budgets could be exceeded by “double digit” percentages, she said.

Rural areas, which struggle most to fill buses, could be worst hit by possible service cancellations according to Lose.

Transport Minister Trine Bramsen said the government is “one hundred percent” behind public transport but that transportation companies must seek solutions.

“We have spent hundreds of millions of kroner protecting our public transport through Covid-19 and that is because we want buses to be used all over the country,” she said.

“There can be no doubt that we are concerned with this agenda,” she said.

Regions, Municipalities and the government are scheduled to meet in September to discuss possible compensation for the first two months of this year, when Covid-19 restrictions were still in place on public transport, she said.

“Along with the compensation we have tabled, traffic companies will also have to make an effort to get their lost passengers on board. This must be done by working together,” she said.

The left-wing Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) a parliamentary ally of the government, wants regional buses to be bailed out using money from an inflation relief fund, news wire Ritzau reports.

A draft 2023 budget presented last week by the government sets aside funding for inflation relief but did not specify the recipients of such spending.

READ ALSO: What is in Denmark’s draft 2023 budget?

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TRANSPORT

Denmark’s budget-hit buses could pause switch to green fuels

Regional buses in Denmark are considering a pause on green fuel plans by switching from more expensive biodiesel back to regular diesel, according to a report.

Denmark’s budget-hit buses could pause switch to green fuels

Regional bus operators could switch back to less environmentally-friendly fuels to avoid closures, broadcaster DR reports.

Buses in the Central Jutland region are under pressure due to a combination of low passenger numbers and rising fuel prices.

Danish Regions, the authority responsible for administration of regional bus services, last week called for state relief for the sector, estimating that one in seven regional bus routes could face cancellation if budget excesses are not addressed, the authorities said.

Regional buses are public buses that connect cities, as opposed to local bus routes which have separate operators.

READ ALSO: Why Denmark’s regional bus services could face crisis

The Central Jutland regional buses must make savings of 100 million kroner in the 2023 budget, DR reports.

An analysis provided by consultancy firm COWI recommends the buses switch from biodiesel back to regular – and more polluting – diesel as a cost-cutting measure.

Biodiesel prices have rocketed upwards as high gas prices – connected to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – have knock-on effects on fuel prices generally.

The Central Jutland regional bus operation expected additional costs of 7.5 million kroner annually from using biodiesel instead of regular diesel, but is actually paying an extra 19 million kroner according to DR.

HVO biodiesel, produced from non-food biowaste, is around 90 percent CO2 neutral according to Region Central Jutland information published by DR. The 10 percent which is not CO2 neutral is related to production and transport of the fuel.

“It is clear that it’s a step in the wrong direction in the climate calculation. I just think the situation is very serious and unusual. The situation is actually almost catastrophic. I think we should strongly consider going back to black diesel in 2023,” elected official Bent Graversen of the Central Jutland’s Regional Development committee told DR.

Buses on seven routes currently use biodiesel. That equates to a total of 56 buses on the regional routes, spending around 130,000 hours on the road per year.

Based on these numbers, Central Jutland Region calculations reported by DR show that switching to biodiesel gives a reduction of 3,700 tonnes of CO2 emission per year. This is equivalent to emissions caused by around 200 people in Denmark.

The municipality in Jutland town Randers is meanwhile considering a similar switch from biodiesel to regular diesel on city buses in order to save money, DR writes.

Forced to choose between running buses on regular diesel and cancelling services, the former is the better option, Aalborg University traffic researcher Harry Lahrmann told the broadcaster.

“The absolute worst thing is to close down routes because we know that when they are opened again, it’s very difficult to get passengers back. They’ve found alternatives in the meantime,” he said.

“If we can’t get more tax kroner spent on public transport, this is the second-best solution,” he said.

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