Speech by Jerónimo de Sousa, General Secretary, March for «Defence of Quality Public Transport»

«We must continue to fight for the right to mobility, in defence of public transport, the rights of workers and users»

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First of all, I would like to salute you and to welcome the participation of all of you in this fight, which combines with many others that we are waging to defend better living conditions for the populations. The right-wing policy, submission to the Euro and impositions of the EU, options that prevailed over the years favouring the interests of monopoly groups, the destructive action of the last PSD/CDS government, and the implementation of the Troika’s Pact, have led to an unsustainable situation for most public transport companies and a serious setback in the right to mobility of the Portuguese people. Cuts in company budgets, worsening of the exploitation of workers and cuts in operational staff, disinvestment in fleets and equipment, abandonment of maintenance services, privatizations and concession of services to economic groups, closure of lines and routes, increase in prices and fares, have contributed to a reality in which the problems of mobility are among the most felt by the populations.

Nothing that has not been encountered in other aspects of national life. In healthcare, education, culture, civil protection, public security, defence, state services to support the productive sectors, the policy of severe budgetary restrictions associated with favouring the interests of large economic groups, imposed a reality of enormous frailty on companies and public services that can only hold accountable the parties - PSD, PS and CDS - who, over the years, have accepted as valid the neoliberal doctrine, the impositions of the European Union, privatizations, cuts in the number of workers , the desertification of the territory, the neglect of national production.

In PCP’s view, it will certainly not be necessary to wait for any catastrophe, a failure in safety or an accident in public transport to look at this problem. The diagnosis that already exists, and which the PCP has long been denouncing, calls for an urgent and structural response capable of reversing the course of degradation of the right to mobility with safety.

In recent months, the PCP has been denouncing the disquieting and unsettling deterioration of the public transport service and questioning the PS minority government, and also presenting proposals that have become increasingly necessary and pressing.

Despite the advances made in many areas of national life over the last two years, everyone agrees on one thing: the systematic degradation of public transport has been a constant and is getting increasingly worse!

The causes are the absurd restrictions imposed on public companies, forbidding them from hiring the workers that are needed, forbidding them from maintaining a correct supply of spare parts, forbidding them from complying with the maintenance plans, forbidding them from investing in a timely modernization of fleets and infrastructure.

It is obvious that the main responsibility is of the previous PSD/CDS government. But the present PS government does not give priority to solving this problem and is slow in "waking up" to its worrying dimension. It is quicker in making promises than to overturn the course that is being followed.

Take for example the situation of the Lisbon Metro. Despite the urgent need to contract workers for maintenance in the Metro, despite the public and repeated requests from the Metro management for 22 additional workers for maintenance, despite public commitments that at least 10 would enter during the year 2017, despite the nightmare to the users deriving from the stoppage of more than 30 trains, in spite of all this, the Government continues without approving the hiring of workers for the maintenance of the Metro, as well as the delay in hiring train drivers long announced, with the consequences of this being evident in dozens of metro stations with the crowding of thousands of passengers, where there are inconceivable delays, where the degradation of the service provided and the worsening of security conditions make us fear for situations that place Metro users and workers at risk.

Take for example the situation of Transtejo and Soflusa [river ferries], whose users are experiencing a chaotic situation with continuous cuts and cancelations in the scheduled offer that has deeply affected the users who live or who have to go to the municipalities of Almada, Seixal, Barreiro and Montijo, to Lisbon. There are tens of thousands of workers and students who pile up every day at the jetties on both sides, creating an unsustainable situation. The lives of thousands of workers are being transformed into a nightmare, not only because of the disruption that involves one's life, but also of the risks, including security due to the gathering of hundreds of people at the jetties, but also because of the weak maintenance of ships.

The bus company Carris, where its municipalisation went ahead, also continues to face problems in the fleet, the hiring of workers and the quality of the service provided.

The PCP considers that the problem that faces all public transport in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area needs an urgent response.

The PS government cannot continue to postpone the investments it has been announcing. It is urgent to invert this situation that is experienced in Transtejo, in Soflusa, in the Lisbon Metro.

It is urgent to provide the service of these companies with more workers and to increase the offer with the increase of the number of trips. Investment in the maintenance and acquisition of ships is urgently needed.

It was in this sense that the PCP recently intervened in the debate on the State Budget for 2018, proposing an end to restrictions on the hiring of more workers, proposing an end to the use of so-called budget captivations that limit the response by companies, proposing the reinforcement of public investment by another 23 million euros, both in the Lisbon Metro and in the river transport companies, a proposal that was once again rejected by PSD, CDS and by PS itself. And our astonishment is even greater when the PS minority government, despite the degradation of the public offer, the only decision it has recently made has been to increase public transport fares next year by about 2%. This is an increase that we consider unacceptable and which reinstates aspects of the previous PSD/CDS government policy.

Comrades and friends
The PCP does not forget the importance of the defeat of the Metro and Carris privatization process that the PSD/CDS government had initiated. But the current situation, two years later, with the lack of answers from the present government is once again creating the conditions for the threat of privatization to once again loom on the workers and users of these companies. This is not the course that transport in the Lisbon metropolitan area needs. On the contrary:
There is an urgent need to overcome the shortage of human and technical resources in the maintenance of the Lisbon Metro, to approve the replacement of spare parts and to start a repair plan for the rolling stock to replace the 31 trains which are currently at a standstill;
It is necessary to contract out the infrastructure modernization work and launch the tenders for the purchase of rolling stock for the Cascais Line;
Here it is also necessary, as a matter of urgency, to overcome the lack of human resources in the maintenance of trains and in the stations of the CP [Railway Company], increasing the offer and improving its quality and safety;
It is essential to implement a plan for the maintenance and modernization of the fleet and pontoons of Transtejo and Soflusa and to rebuild its own maintenance services, replacing the stock of consumables and spare parts and the staff;
It is necessary to recover the levels of offer by Carris, extending the network and frequency, and recovering the structure of information to the users;
It is necessary to materialize the extension of the Intermodal Social Travel Pass to the entire Metropolitan Area, to all operators and all routes, extending the mobility with lower costs for the users.

In PCP’s view, the public transportation system, namely in the metropolitan areas, is not and cannot be, the sum of a few companies, some of them private and supported by public funds. This is the path that makes life hell for millions of people, that treats them as if they were goods and not human beings, which imposes hours and hours of waiting at stops, at jetties and boarding stations, which prolongs the workday in commuting to an unsustainable level, leaving populations isolated, pushing thousands of people to individual transportation by congesting traffic, clogging streets and avenues, degrading the environment, worsening the country's energy deficit by making it more and more dependent.

The current situation calls for an emergency programme of investment in public transport that the PCP has been proposing, guaranteeing efficient working conditions and a national public transport system, an extended and accessible intermodal social travel pass in metropolitan areas aiming at a progressive replacement of individual transport.

The current situation of the country, recent events in various areas of national life, prove that the Portuguese people are paying dearly for the policy of neglect and degradation of public services, public enterprises and State functions. Governments cannot react only when a tragedy strikes. The power and interests of monopoly groups, the drain caused by debt interest, the impositions of the European Union made in the name of the single currency cannot superimpose on the needs of the country and of the Portuguese people.

It is therefore necessary to continue the fight for the right to mobility, in defence of public transport, the rights of workers and users.

The PCP not only does not give up this fight but also calls on the workers and the populations to intensify their struggle.

The PCP will continue its action to solve national problems, inseparable from the patriotic and left-wing policy that Portugal needs.

  • Economia e Aparelho Produtivo
  • Central