Ferry fare policy not breaking law, says Monti
European Voice - 13 November 2003
By Peter Chapman
CROSS-CHANNEL ferry and rail operators who charge markedly different prices for day-trips and standard return fares are not necessarily breaking any EU laws, according to Competition Commissioner Mario Monti.
He was responding to claims by British MEP Charles Tannock that passengers who travel to or from the continent for several days are effectively subsidizing the cheap fares of day-trippers.
Some travellers have bought the much cheaper day-return tickets from each departure point, only to find a hefty surcharge added to their credit card bills when they have failed to make the return trip on the same day as their initial outward excursion. Worse, Tannock said, the companies seem to be following exactly the same system in an "agreement to illicitly fix prices".
Monti announced a probe in September into alleged concerted practices between firms operating services across the English Channel, including Eurotunnel, the company that operates motor-rail services in the Channel Tunnel.
But the competition chief admits there is little he can do about the difference between standard and bargain fares.
"The Commission cannot object as such towards a pricing system whereby day tickets designed to attract new demand and aimed for a short notice target group are offered at different conditions, including different fares, than standard return services," he explained.
Nevertheless, Monti confirmed that it would be illegal if two or more firms "agreed to commonly restrict the availability of cheaper tickets".
Dominant firms risk breaking the law by charging different customers various prices. Experts say this could mean giving them alternative contract terms, merely dependent on their location, without being able to give an objective reason to justify the differences.