Press Review, Monday 25 January 2010

RNW archive

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The government's plans for a pay-as-you-drive car tax replacement hit the headlines again, while some Dutch motorists are paid to avoid the rush hour. There are calls to clobber the parents of underage vandals and smoking has returned to the neighbourhood bar.

Today's papers are full of the latest twist in the saga of government plans to replace car tax with a computerised pay-as-you-drive system designed to put an end to daily traffic jams.
The Dutch automobile association (ANWB) is surveying its four million members to gauge support among motorists for the government's ideas. Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings caused a furore on Friday when he said that, if the ANWB membership came out against it, the draft legislation would be dropped. quotes a Christian Union MP who managed to sum up the feeling of many in parliament: "Allow ANWB members to decide what's democratic? That's not how it works, minister." A Labour member put it even plainer: "Parliament decides on draft legislation".
The paper says the ANWB survey doesn't require just a simple yes or no answer. Members are asked to what extent they agree with certain positions on issues including, for example, privacy and higher rush-hour charges. The survey's results will only be released at the end of February and are intended to strengthen the ANWB's hand in negotiating with the government on possible changes to the draft legislation.
Yes or no?
De Telegraaf says its mass-circulation readership is angry that the ANWB survey doesn't allow motorists to give the government's plans a simple thumbs up or (rather more likely one suspects) thumbs down. The paper believes that the survey, with its carefully crafted questions, is intended to steer people towards acceptance of the new system.
It wheels out opposition MPs to back up its case that motorists are being stitched up by their own organisation. "I think they're extremely suggestive questions, as if the ANWB is trying to push the pay-as-you-drive system through," says a conservative VVD MP.
Ever the public servant, De Telegraaf has organised its own survey and, yes, the majority of those who have responded, 140,000 so far, have come out against the pay-as-you-drive system. Readers believe the changes will lead to higher charges for motorists and more money wasted on government bureaucracy.
Four-euro incentive to avoid rush hour
As if giving an alternative to the pay-as-you-drive system, De Volkskrant runs a front-page article about a regional success story on beating traffic jams. A small-scale trial in the Arnhem-Nijmegen area saw motorists paid four euros a day to avoid travelling in the rush hour.
It showed that drivers were able to find alternatives to using their cars at peak times if they were given small cash incentives to do so. With just around 650 motorists avoiding the evening and morning rush hours, traffic was noticeably eased.
Vehicles kept moving at bottlenecks where jams had been a daily occurrence before the trial. A local authority spokeswoman says the positive results were even more noteworthy because a number of major roadworks were taking place at the time. The trial is going to be extended throughout the Arnhem-Nijmegen region over the next few years.
Who pays for underage vandalism?
The Protestant daily Trouw steers us away from traffic problems and towards those of underage vandals. "Parents should pay for damage" reads its headline. The paper says Christian Democrat (CDA) politicians are sick of victims of vandalism receiving no compensation because the underage vandals officially have no cash.
One CDA MP says the damage caused by 14 to 18-year-old vandals runs to millions of euros each year. "Slashing bus seats, graffiti, or the latest trend: cycling past a line of cars, kicking the wing mirrors off as they go. Between 30 and 50 percent of public transport vandalism is caused by youths in this age group," he fumes.
Parents are responsible for damage committed by children up to the age of 14 but the law is unclear about just who is responsible for older youths if they have no income. The MP points out that we all pay at the moment "through higher insurance premiums and tax". He thinks making parents cough up for the behaviour of their older children will make the youths think again before committing vandalism. Many parents may not agree.
No atmosphere without smoke
Today's AD says anti-smoking legislation is being flouted in 40 percent of bars. The paper has been doing its own research, making random checks at establishments in cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Following defeats in the courts, the government relaxed the rules to allow small bars without staff to permit smoking on the premises. It appears that this has been taken as a general free-for-all, with some bars introducing their own regulations allowing, for example, smoking after 5pm or when diners have finished eating.
Hennie Lensen who owns a bar in Utrecht says she's given up trying to enforce the ban. "For months, I sent customers outside because I wanted to obey the no-smoking law. But, turnover was cut by a half, and there was just no atmosphere anymore."
Small neighbourhood bars, like Ms Lensen's, are most likely to ignore the regulations, unlike larger restaurants and hotels which tend to adhere to the law. Health Minister Ab Klink has told the paper he knows the regulations are being broken. It warns he is considering new measures.