Day: January 13, 2021

Latest round of online deplatforming shows why we need increased competition and decentralization

Another week means another politically-charged rampage of deplatforming of social media profiles and entire social media networks.

Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by some of his supporters, President Trump was promptly suspended from Twitter and Facebook and later dozens of Internet services including Shopify and Twitch.

Even the image-sharing site Pinterest, famous for recipes and DIY project presentations, has banned Trump and any mention of contesting the 2020 Election. He’ll have to go without sourdough recipes and needlework templates once he’s out of office.

Beyond Trump, entire social media networks have also been put in the crosshairs following the troubling incursion on Capitol Hill. The conservative platform Parler, a refuge for social media dissidents, has since had its app pulled from the Google and Apple stores and had their hosting servers suspended by Amazon’s web service company AWS.

This pattern of removing unsavory profiles or websites isn’t just a 2021 phenomenon. The whistleblower website Wikileaks – whose founder Julian Assange remains in prison without bail in the UK awaiting extradition to the United States – was similarly removed from Amazon’s servers in 2012, as well as blacklisted by Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and their DNS provider. Documents reveal both public and private pressure by then U.S. senator and Intelligence Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman was instrumental in choking Wikileaks off from these services.

Then it was politicians pressuring companies to silence a private organization. Now, it’s private organizations urging companies to silence politicians.

However the pendulum swings, it’s entirely reasonable for companies that provide services to consumers and institutions to respond quickly to avoid risk. Whether it’s due to governmental decree or public backlash, firms must respond to incentives that ensure their success and survival.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Gab, or Parler, they can only exist and thrive if they fulfill the wishes and demands of their users, and increasingly to the political and social pressures placed on them by a cacophony of powerful forces.

It’s an impossible tightrope.

It is clear that many of these companies have and will continue to make bad business decisions based on either politics or perception of bias. They are far from perfect.

The only true way we can ensure a healthy balance of information and services provided by these companies to their consumers is by promoting competition and decentralization.

Having diverse alternative services to host servers, provide social networks, and allow people to communicate remains in the best interest of all users and consumers.

Such a mantra is difficult to hold in today’s hostile ideological battleground inflated by Silicon Valley, Washington, and hostile actors in Bejing and Moscow, but it is necessary.

In the realm of policy, we should be wary of proposed solutions that aim to cut off some services at the expense of others.

Repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for example, would be incredibly harmful to users and firms alike. If platforms become legally liable for user content, it would essentially turn innovative tech companies into risk-averting insurance companies that occasionally offer data services. That would be terrible for innovation and user experience.

And considering the politically charged nature of our current discourse, anyone could find a reason to cancel you or an organization you hold dear – meaning you’re more at risk for being deplatformed.

At the same time, axing Section 230 would empower large firms and institutions that already have the resources to manage content policing and legal issues at scale, locking out many start-ups and aspiring competitors who otherwise would have been able to thrive.

When we think of the towering power of Big Tech and Big Government, some things can be true all at the same time. It can be a bad idea to use antitrust law to break up tech firms as it will deprive consumers of choice, just as these companies are guilty of making bad business decisions that will hurt their user base. How we respond to that will determine how consumers will continue to be able to use online services going forward.

All the while, every individual Internet user and organization has it in their power to use competitive and diverse services. Anyone can start up an instance of Mastodon (as I have done), a decentralized micro-blogging service, host a private web server on a Raspberry Pi (coming soon), or accept Bitcoin rather than credit cards.

Thanks to competition and innovation, we have consumer choice. The question is, though, if we’re courageous enough to use them.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.


What ideas should the government consider to raise funds for helping people stop smoking?

We believe that innovate harm-reducing alternatives can not only help people reduce harmful exposure, and even help them quit smoking regular tobacco, but also achieve that goal without the need for government funds. 

The UK’s permissive approach to e-cigarettes has shown a positive impact. According to the NHS, between 2011 and 2017, the number of UK smokers fell from 19.8% to 14.9%. At the same time, the number of e-cigarette users rose: almost half of these consumers use e-cigarettes as a means of quitting smoking. Public Health England has confirmed that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than conventional cigarettes. Therefore, consumers should be afforded the choice of vaping. 

We also do not believe that an aggressive approach to the matter will help with smoking cessation. Strict anti-tobacco measures have shown to be regressive, and tend to push and seal consumers in the black market for a long time. Smoking cessation is a difficult task, that can be achieved through harm reducing alternatives, such as e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn products, or snus (which is illegal in the European Union, except for Sweden). 

How can we do more to support mothers to breastfeed?

While breastfeeding is commendable, as it might advance the physical well-being of the child, it should be noted that not all mothers are able to provide the necessary quantity. This can lead to dehydration of the infant, leading to serious medical conditions. For those mothers, infant formula is a necessary alternative. We therefore support the continued zero-rating for VAT on baby milk.

Furthermore, the CCC supports the continuation of the Equality Act 2010, which allows mothers to breastfeed in all public places.

However, breastfeeding remains an individual choice of the mother, and can and should not be imposed. This is an intimate choice to be made by a mother, in which law-makers should not have a say.

How can we better support families with children aged 0 to 5 years to eat well?

It remains a continuous challenge to improve the nutrition of young children. This responsibility lies with the parents, you serve the function of caretakers and educators. In the age range of 0 to 5, this responsibility is most pronounced, and should be taken seriously. The Consumer Choice Center believes that parents have a moral obligation to inform themselves about healthy nutrition for their children. However, the reversal of the food pyramid has shown that institutionalised nutritional guidance can lead to adverse effects. The Harvard School of Public Health has pointed out that the food pyramid “conveyed the wrong dietary advice”. It also says: “With an overstuffed breadbasket as its base, the Food Guide Pyramid failed to show that whole wheat, brown rice, and other whole grains are healthier than refined grains.” The CCC is therefore sceptical about the idea of government-advised diets for children.

The obligation of parents to make informed choices about the nutrition of their children does not end at the age of 5. Quite on the contrary, as children get to the age of being able to be active in sports, they need to be encouraged to do so.

In October last year, Public Health England indicated that more than 37 percent of 10 and 11 year-olds in London are overweight or obese. It is often mistakenly argued, for this age, that this is caused by high energy intake, but the obesity rates are dependent on the physical activity, which according to Public Health England has decreased by 24 per cent since the 1960s. Daily calorie intake in the UK is also decreasing each decade.

Furthermore, the government should look towards relieving regulatory measures that increase the price of healthy foods.

How else can we help people reach and stay at a healthier weight?

It is often mistakenly argued that the obesity crisis is caused by high energy intake, but the obesity rates are dependent on the physical activity, which according to Public Health England has decreased by 24 per cent since the 1960s. Daily calorie intake in the UK is also decreasing each decade.

Physical activity is therefore paramount. Local government should foster and encourage the creation of outdoor fitness places, and facilitate the creation of interesting and safe public walkways, which can be used for physical exercise. The CCC also believes that community sports programmes should be a part of the government strategy on tackling obesity.

Have you got examples or ideas that would help people to do more strength and balance exercises?

Physical activity is paramount. Local government should foster and encourage the creation of outdoor fitness places, and facilitate the creation of interesting and safe public walkways, which can be used for physical exercise. The CCC also believes that community sports programmes should be a part of the government strategy on tackling obesity.

What are the top 3 things you’d like to see covered in a future strategy on sexual and reproductive health?

As of now, the UK applies a VAT rate of 5% on condoms. The Consumer Choice Center supports an exemption of these products from VAT. Condoms are not luxury sanitary products — they are essentially for advancing sexual and reproductive health, and guarantees the choice of consumers.

[UK] The regulation of genetic technologies

Currently, organisms developed using genetic technologies such as GE are regulated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) even if their genetic change(s) could have been produced through traditional breeding. Do you agree with this?

Answer: No – they should not continue to be regulated a GMO

Please explain your answer, providing specific evidence where appropriate. This may include suggestions for an alternative regulatory approach.

The United Kingdom should strive to be in line with the Cartagena Protocol, and not treat organism developed using GE as GMOs, if they could have been produced through traditional breeding. An accurate risk-assessment should be based on the individual organism, not on the technology that produced it. In that sense, the UK should diverge from existing EU legislation, and the associated ECJ ruling of 2018.

Do organisms produced by GE or other genetic technologies pose a similar, lesser or greater risk of harm to human health or the environment compared with their traditionally bred counterparts as a result of how they were produced?

Please provide evidence to support your response including details of the genetic technology, the specific risks and why they do or do not differ. Please also state which applications/areas your answer relates to (for example: does it apply to the cultivation of crop plants, breeding of farmed animals, human food, animal feed, human and veterinary medicines, other applications/ areas).

The question does not do the complexity of the issue justice. Making general statements of safety for all products derived through genetic engineering is not possible, nor desirable. In fact, the perspective of regulating by technology, not by organism, is a failure of EU policy, which should be revisited. The technology of genetic engineering is a means to an end, of which we cannot make blanket statements.

Are there any non-safety issues to consider (e.g. impacts on trade, consumer choice, intellectual property, regulatory, animal welfare or others), if organisms produced by GE or other genetic technologies, which could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding methods, were not regulated as GMOs?


Please provide evidence to support your response and expand on what these non-safety issues are.

Non-safety issues that are to consider is the legality of GMOs restrictions in the jurisdictions of trading partners. If the European Union does not allow for the import of gene-edited organisms because of its GMO Directive, then this has trade implications that can activate international dispute mechanisms.

There are a number of existing, non-GM regulations that control the use of organisms and/or products derived from them. The GMO legislation applies additional controls when the organism or product has been developed using particular technologies. Do you think existing, non-GM legislation is sufficient to deal with all organisms irrespective of the way that they were produced or is additional legislation needed? Please indicate in the table whether, yes, the existing non-GMO legislation is sufficient, or no, existing non-GMO legislation is insufficient and additional governance measures (regulatory or non-regulatory) are needed. Please answer Y/N for each of the following sectors/activities:

Cultivation of crop plants: Yes
Breeding farmed animals: Yes
Human food: Yes
Animal food: Yes
Human and veterinary medicines: Yes
Other sectors/activities: Yes

Source: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/agri-food-chain-directorate/the-regulation-of-genetic-technologies/

Локдаун 3.0

Восьмого січня, під кінець різдвяних свят, в Україні почався другий локдаун. Постановою Кабінету Міністрів від 9-го грудня 2020-го року було встановлено перелік обмежувальних заходів на період локдауну, серед яких, наприклад, заборона діяльності кафе, барів, та ресторанів та різного роду закладів культури та спорту.

Однак, найбільш контроверсійною стала заборона купівлі-продажу товарів, які не були визначені як такі що є першої необхідності. Тобто під час локдауну українські споживачі не можуть купити товари, які не відносяться до продуктів харчування, лікарських засобів, виробів медичного призначення, засобів гігієни, засобів зв’язку, ветеринарних препаратів, кормів.

«Для мене знайомство з новими правилами локдауну почалось дуже несподіано в магазині АТБ, коли я побачила такі товари, як колготи, сміттєві пакети та освіжувачі повітря заклеяними стрічкою. Звичайно, український уряд не є інноватором, адже схожі заборони існували або досі існують по всій Європі. Але, як завжди, ми взяли те, що роблять розвинуті країни і спаплюжили це», — коментує менеджер з досліджень Consumer Choice Center Марія Чапля.

Крім закладів харчування і культури які і так зазнали багато збитків через карантинні заходи, в програші так само опинився вибір споживачів. Сама по собі ситуація з неможливістю купити ті самі мішки для сміття є просто абсурдною, адже саме продукти харчування є зазвичай причиною довгих черг, а не колготи чи книжки. Тобто, локдаун б’є по вибору меншості споживачів, які прийдуть до супермаркету, щоб купити товари, які не речами першої необхідності. Чи є це справедливо? Hi. І, напевно більше до теми, чи сприятиме це якось покращенню ситуації з ковідом? Ні.

«Якщо коротко, то цінність — суб’єктивна, а тому те, все, що для одного споживача є необхідним не може бути визнане таким, що ним не є. Навіть в час ковіду держава не має права визначати, що має місце бути на поличках супермаркетів, а що ні», — пояснює експерт.

«Локдаун в Україні є економічно невиправиданим, а тому абсолютно недоцільним. Як раніше було підраховано міністерством економіки, в місяць підтримка підприємців в галузях, по яких б’є локдаун обійдеться нашій державі в близько 20 млрд грн. Як для економіки, яка розвивається, це дуже велика сума, яка рано чи пізно транслюється в великі податки для середньостатичних українців та малого бізнесу. Таким чином, погіршуючи стан речей ще більше і зменшуючи економічну свободу якої і так дуже мало. Зупиніть локдаун, врятуйте вибір споживачів і малий бізнес», — підсумувала Чапля.


Думки щодо запровадження локдауну серед місцевої влади розділилися.

Міський голова Черкас Анатолій Бондаренко, який торік запам’ятався своїм бунтом проти  центральної влади, що запроваджувала карантин, пообіцяв після різдвяних свят розібратися з додатковими обмеженнями.

«Уряд запроваджує жорсткий локдаун. Але мені здається, що йому насамперед потрібно визначитися, які товари продаватимуться, а які не продаватимуться; які супермаркети працюватимуть, а які — ні. Тому що виходить так, органи місцевого самоврядування знову повинні на себе брати і вирішувати. На тлі нинішнього зниження кількості хворих, я вважаю, що запровадження жорсткого локдауну не на часі. У Черкасах немає великого скупчення людей, захворюваність контрольована», — заявив він 6 січня під час онлайн-звернення у Facebook.

У коментарі медіа міський голова Івано-Франківська Руслан Марцінків, який раніше вирізнявся незгодою жорстким карантинним рішенням уряду, повідомив, що нині місто дотримуватиметься локдауну.

«Те, що не забороняє урядова постанова, працюватиме у місті. Це — громадський транспорт, різдвяний каток, дитячі садочки та інше. Що стосується роботи непродуктового ринку, то, на жаль, своїм рішенням ми не можемо нічого відмінити. Раніше намагалися щось роботи, але були заведені кримінальні справи і доводилося закривати роботу ринків. Тож під час цього локдауну нікого не наражатимемо на небезпеку. До речі, на рівні Асоціації міст України не погоджувалося рішення про запровадження посиленого карантину. Взагалі я проти посилення карантинних обмежень у нинішніх умовах. Адже в Івано-Франківську різко зменшилася «ковідна» статистика. Приміром, 5 січня у місті зафіксували 16 нових випадків Covid-19. Це дуже мало, оскільки був час, коли за добу виявляли 450-500 хворих з коронавірусом», — зазначив він.

Марцінків додав: на 1 грудня 2020 року бюджет Івано-Франківська втратив 220 млн грн через епідемію Covid-19, що становить майже 10% від усього бюджету міста.


«Карантин 2020 частково вже загартував український бізнес та підготував нас до нових реалій. Ми розуміємо, що завдання номер один для всіх лідерів — забезпечити безпечні умови праці для своїх співробітників, частково перевести процеси в онлайн та стартувати робочий рік» — коментує бізнесмен Василь Хмельницький.

Він радить,  мінімізувати витрати, менше ризикувати грошима та шукати нових постачальників з більш вигідними умовами. «Якщо ви орієнтовані на імпорт — намагайтесь знайти українські аналоги. Їх немає? Якщо є попит на ринку на цей товар, для вас це хороша можливість самому почати його виробляти»? — говорить Хмельницький.

«Робіть усе можливе, аби зберегти та мотивувати вашу команду. Люди — головне в бізнесі. Домовтесь про зменшення оплати на період карантину але компенсуйте різницю, коли все налагодиться. І уникайте песимістів, які постійно скаржаться на карантин та кризу, ваш успіх залежить і від настрою. І, найголовніше, що б не відбувалось — будьте завжди чесними та відкритими, дотримуйтесь зобов’язань. Зі співробітниками, партнерами, кредиторами. Карантин пройде, а  репутація залишиться», — резюмує підприємець.

Originally published here.

Le Québec peut être un leader du plastique sans Trudeau

Au cours de la pandémie, le plastique est devenu un mal nécessaire pour répondre aux contraintes sanitaires.  

Qu’il s’agisse de l’équipement de protection individuelle, des boîtes de repas à emporter ou encore des cloisons en plexiglas dressées afin de protéger les clients au restaurant, il est devenu omniprésent. 

L’ubiquité de cette matière n’est pas nouvelle, mais son utilité dans l’ère de la COVID est marquante. Pourtant, cela ne change rien quant à son caractère polluant. Personne ne souhaite répandre cette matière dans la nature, surtout pas dans nos fleuves et autres cours d’eau. 

C’est la raison pour laquelle le premier ministre du Québec François Legault a annoncé l’élargissement du système de consigne. Ce faisant, il cherche à mieux recycler les bouteilles de plastique. Le ministre de l’Environnement, Benoit Charrette, a aussi révélé des plans afin de réduire la consommation de plastique des entreprises dans l’espoir de mieux recycler leurs déchets. 

Il y a aussi des centaines d’entrepreneurs québécois dans l’industrie du recyclage qui deviennent de plus en plus efficaces et grossissent à vue d’oeil. L’usine de Lavergne à Montréal en est un bel exemple, tout comme Plastiques GPR de Saint-Félix-de-Valois. Ces deux entreprises comptent des clients partout à travers le monde et aident à faire rayonner le Québec. 

La popularité de ces initiatives est le fruit des efforts de l’industrie et du gouvernement du Québec. 

Le plastique n’est pas toxique

Il semble aujourd’hui qu’Ottawa cherche à aller se chercher une part de cette gloire. En octobre, le gouvernement de Justin Trudeau a déclaré qu’il désignerait le plastique comme une substance toxique selon l’annexe 1 de la Loi canadienne sur la protection de l’environnement. Cela interdirait l’utilisation d’articles en plastique à usage unique tels que les sacs en plastique, les pailles, les bâtonnets à mélanger, les ustensiles et les récipients de polystyrène. 

Cette décision du gouvernement nous inquiète pour deux raisons. Tout d’abord, nous savons tous que les produits en plastique ne sont pas toxiques. Ce n’est pas comme l’amiante et le plomb, deux autres produits déjà identifiés par cette loi. Pourquoi reléguer une matière d’une si grande utilité au même statut que des substances cancérigènes ? Cela ne fait aucun sens. 

Ensuite, cela fait fi du travail des entrepreneurs et entreprises innovantes cherchant des solutions concrètes pour résoudre le problème de pollution, notamment en travaillant sur le cycle de vie de ces manières. Bannir ces matières ou les considérer « toxiques » vient éliminer les solutions privées qui ont été développées par nos entrepreneurs et innovateurs locaux. Ce rejet des solutions innovantes est inquiétant. 

Qui plus est, Ottawa vient empiéter une fois de plus sur les efforts des provinces pour lutter contre ces matières résiduelles. Le Québec et l’Alberta ont déjà mis en place des plans afin de réduire la consommation de plastiques. Ces plans conçus localement répondent mieux aux besoins de leurs citoyens que ceux imposés par Ottawa. 

La reclassification du plastique est loin d’être une bonne solution. C’est plutôt une démarche cynique du gouvernement Trudeau visant à justifier son empiétement sur un domaine de compétence provinciale et répondre maladroitement aux demandes des groupes environnementaux. 

Un bien indispensable

S’il est nécessaire d’applaudir les efforts pour réduire la consommation de plastiques, il est tout aussi important d’être réaliste : le plastique est un bien indispensable, et la pandémie nous l’a rappelé. L’important est de s’assurer qu’il ne se ramasse pas n’importe où et puisse être réutilisé ou bien recyclé. 

C’est grâce au génie québécois que nous pourrons disposer de notre plastique de façon responsable, et non grâce à une prohibition du gouvernement fédéral. Au lieu de laisser les provinces gérer leurs approches et les innovateurs trouver des solutions efficaces, le gouvernement fédéral a choisi la voie paresseuse de l’interdiction pure et simple de certains produits. Cela nuit à tout le monde, et particulièrement à nous tous, consommateur. 

Cette reclassification vient aussi créer une réelle incertitude sur ce qui pourrait être ajouté à la liste des produits toxiques dans un futur rapproché. 

Le Québec a montré qu’il est un leader dans le recyclage du plastique. Il est crucial qu’Ottawa lui permette de le demeurer. 

Yaël Ossowski, Directeur adjoint à L’Agence pour le choix du consommateur, un groupe mondial de défense des consommateurs

Originally published here.

Sindicato quer que Ford reverta demissões

O Sindicato dos Metalúrgicos de Taubaté e Região (Sindmetau) quer que a Ford reveja a decisão de fechar as fábricas no Brasil e mantenha os empregos. Segundo o presidente do Sindicato, Claudio Batista, os trabalhadores foram “pegos de surpresa” com a decisão anunciada ontem.

“O sindicato vai fazer toda luta necessária para tentar reverter essa situação”, disse Batista. De acordo com ele, os 830 funcionários da fábrica em Taubaté tinham estabilidade no emprego até o fim de 2021, devido a um acordo de redução de jornada e salários feito no ano passado, em razão da Cvid-19. A unidade da montadora na cidade está há 53 anos de atividade.

A Associação Nacional dos Fabricantes de Veículos Automotores (Anfavea) evitou comentar diretamente as razões e os impactos do fechamento das fábricas no Brasil.

“A Anfavea não vai comentar sobre o tema. Trata-se de uma decisão estratégica global de uma das nossas associadas. Respeitamos e lamentamos”, disse a entidade em nota.

No entanto, a associação comentou que os custos de produção têm afetado as montadoras no país. “Isso corrobora o que a entidade vem alertando há mais de um ano, sobre a ociosidade da indústria (local e global) e a falta de medidas que reduzam o Custo Brasil”.

Já a Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo (Fiesp) insiste que a alta carga tributária é um dos fatores que dificulta a manutenção da produção industrial no país. “A Fiesp tem alertado sobre a necessidade de se implementar uma agenda que reduza o Custo Brasil, melhore o ambiente de negócios e aumente a competitividade dos produtos brasileiros. Isso não é apenas discurso. É a realidade enfrentada pelas empresas”, disse, em nota, a federação.

Para Fabio Fernandes, diretor global de Relações Institucionais e Governamentais da entidade de defesa do consumidor Consumer Choice Center, apesar da decisão da Ford de fechar suas fábricas no Brasil impactar os consumidores, não há razão para desespero.

“O fechamento das fábricas da Ford no Brasil segue uma tendência mundial de queda na venda de veículos que foi drasticamente acentuada em 2020 em decorrência da pandemia. O setor automotivo enfrentou uma série de transformações tecnológicas nos últimos anos, e os consumidores estão mais exigentes e conscientes dessas mudanças, o que tem obrigado as empresas tradicionais a reestruturarem os seus negócios. O problema, é que os ciclos de produtos na indústria automotiva são, de pelo menos, cinco anos, e as mudanças estão acontecendo mais rápido do que a capacidade das empresas de acompanhar”, disse Fernandes.

“Os consumidores brasileiros não têm nada com que se preocupar no médio prazo. Os proprietários dos modelos que serão descontinuados, terão acesso a manutenção, peças e mais importante à garantia. O fabricante é obrigado a manter a oferta de peças de reposição mesmo com o fim da produção dos modelos por um prazo razoável, e acreditamos que esse tempo seja de, pelo menos, mais 15 anos”.

“Além do mais, o anúncio da Ford é para o fechamento das fábricas no Brasil e não para as concessionárias. A marca continuará a vender carros no país e inclusive anunciou novos modelos que chegarão ao mercado. O consumidor no final terá acesso à um produto mais internacional”.

Originally published here.

Europe’s Year of Rail should be about competition

We need more rail competition through private competition.

The European Parliament recently approved 2021 to be the European Year of Rail, to promote rail as a sustainable and viable alternative to air travel or use a car. 

European Commissioner for Transport Vălean said: “Our future mobility needs to be sustainable, safe, comfortable and affordable. Rail offers all of that and much more! The European Year of Rail gives us the opportunity to re-discover this mode of transport. Through a variety of actions, we will use this occasion to help rail realise its full potential. I invite all of you to be part of the European Year of Rail.”

However, while the European Union’s promotion of rail might be laudable, actual policy changes need to follow suit. In too many member states, incumbent state rail actors receive preferential treatment, either through years of subsidisation or through continued state participation. Europe is far from having a real free market in the rail sector, which leads to higher prices and more and more antiquated networks.

Rail privatisation would bring far greater efficiency to the transport of cargo, while also improving domestic passenger services, bringing lower fares and greater choice. In the Czech Republic, for example, the entrepreneur Leoš Novotný created Leo Express, a private rail company which is attempting to drive Czech trains into the 21st century. 

In Germany, however, things have started to change. Federal states are now offering regional rail traffic to the best bidder. It’s not the ideal solution, but it has enabled prices to drop, even for the main provider Deutsch Bahn.

Many fear that rail privatisations lead to price gouging, yet there is little evidence for this. In the United Kingdom there has been, since 1995, only a 2.7 per cent increase in the average cost of a single journey. If you bear in mind that today’s trains run faster, have air-conditioning and loos that people actually don’t mind using, then ‘gouging’ is something of an overstatement.

Another viable alternative is the Italian model.

After several directives between the 1980s and the 1990s, the most important of which was the Directive 440/91/EC, several positive changes have occurred in the European Union. Between 2001 and 2016, the EU approved four legislative packages aiming at gradually opening up rail transport service market to competition, defining passengers’ rights about minimum quality standards, making national railway systems interoperable, and defining appropriate framework conditions for the development of a single European railway area. The Italian legislation enforcing these directives was not easy to implement, as in other European countries. Still, Italy was the first member state that proved successful in opening the HSR market to competition.

The new regime of competition began in April 2012, when the private company, Italo (managed by Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori), entered the market. The existing rail incumbent at that time, Frecciarossa, managed by Trenitalia, was wholly owned and operated by the national railway company Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, a conglomerate holding of the railway sector including service, infrastructure, and transportation of goods, as required by European legislation concerning the separation between the infrastructure manager and the service operator.

As a result, we’ve seen a reduction in ticket prices of 41%, paired with an increase in demand of 90%. This makes Italy one of the best countries for high-speed rail use.

We can make viable changes to the European network, but we should refrain from believing that government investment alone can make this happen. On the contrary, we should look to the private sector to provide the means to reach our sustainable transport objectives.

Originally published here.

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