The National Association of Passenger Transport (ANTROP) argues that it is possible to become a bus driver from the age of 18, instead of the current 23 years of age, which would help combat the serious lack of professionals in this area.

“Today the general rule is 23 years. We know that there are several countries in Europe that already accept people aged 18 and over. This is our request, that a legislative change be made, which the community directives allow, so that there can be the possibility of hiring drivers from the age of 18”, said Luís Cabaço Martins to the Lusa agency.

The head of the association that brings together around 80 public road passenger transport companies said that reducing the age to be a public passenger service driver is being analysed by the Institute of Mobility and Transport (IMT), which should present a proposal to the Government.

It admits, however, that for younger drivers there may be more requirements, such as distance limitations or reinforced training.

Asked whether the solution to reducing the lack of professionals does not involve increasing salaries, so that the sector is attractive, Cabaço Martins said that revisions have been made to collective employment contracts, with increases in remuneration, and that there is an agreement with unions so that by 2025 there will be “guaranteed salary increases at least in line with inflation”.

Regarding how many drivers are missing in Portugal, the president of ANTROP said that he does not know at the moment. At the beginning of the year, he said, there were an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 drivers missing, but more than half will have already been hired. However, he added, it is necessary to continue hiring, especially as many will begin to reach retirement age.

Several operators, especially in the Lisbon region, have been hiring drivers abroad, namely in Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP).

The National Association of Heavy Passenger Road Transporters wants, on the other hand, the Government to urgently approve fuel compensation, considering that, without this, public passenger transport could be at risk.

“Either the Government gives us the support it promised us, at least 10 cents per liter until the end of the year and from January 2024 professional diesel, or we will not be able to continue carrying out our activity and, as a result, the provision of public transport services is called into question”, said the president of ANTROP, Luís Cabaço Martins, to Lusa.

As part of the State Budget Law for 2023, the Government included a change to allocate professional diesel (which pays less taxes) to public passenger transport operators. However, the law never progressed due to a lack of regulation, which ANTROP asks to be done quickly so that it can be in force, at least, at the beginning of 2024.

To compensate operators for not accessing professional diesel, in 2023, the Government provided support of 10 cents per liter for the first semester, which should have been renewed for the second semester, which ANTROP asks to be done quickly (with retroactive), despite saying that this support of 10 cents per liter is lower than the 17 cents savings per liter on professional diesel.

“Today, public passenger transport is very limited, we cannot pass on our costs to our revenues, which are determined by the State, in particular by local authorities, which define the prices of transport tickets. So we are completely tied hand and foot,” he said.

For Cabaço Martins, without any support for fuels, “the subsistence of many companies is at risk”, which this year has seen increases in personnel costs of 9% and an increase in fuel costs of 20% since June, and estimated that, “ Through diesel alone, the sector has a loss of 25 million euros”. This, he explained, “just taking into account what the State support was and what should have happened”.

According to a statement from the Council of Ministers, released late Wednesday night, the Government approved the granting of extraordinary and exceptional support with a view to mitigating the increase in fuel prices in the heavy public passenger transport sector, without mentioning its value.

Regarding the measure that grants free passes to all young students up to the age of 23, Cabaço Martins said that “it will be a huge financial effort for companies” so “the State needs to pay this difference every month”, without delays.

According to the president of ANTROP, with the 25% discount on these passes, the compensation is 11 million to 12 million euros per year, which is why he estimates that this compensation will rise to around 50 million euros (not to mention that they can increase the number of beneficiaries).