Public letter regarding the EP’s car services budget

I read from today’s Politico that the bureau plans to increase the budget for the car services. I strongly advise against this, and suggest that you rather invest the money in new technologies and innovative ideas to save taxpayers’ money.

I must say that I rarely use the car service as I usually prefer to walk. Given the heavy congestion of roads in Brussels and Strasbourg, it is often faster to walk than to sit in traffic in a car. When I have used the cars in Brussels, I have noticed more relevant things to improve than those suggested in the new proposal. First, you have to register your trip beforehand by calling the registration, and provide the address of the place you want to go. Then, when you get to the garage and are in an extreme hurry, the staff at the car service takes time deciding who will drive you to your destination, and asks for the address again. On several occasions I have had to show the driver the location on my phone and explain how to get there. Why register in advance then?

Secondly, for picking up the MEP from an event, you also have to register, but very often the panels and discussions last longer than expected and the exact ending time cannot be foreseen in most cases. When you are on stage you cannot call the driver to say that you will be late. The driver only waits for you for 15 minutes. So, if the event runs over time by more than that, you have to start organising everything from scratch. Why not develop real time information tools and direct communication with the drivers to save both their time and ours?

Currently, the cars are most useful for driving to the airport and back. But here, again, the way the car service is presently organised actually punishes those who come to Brussels for the whole week. I come on Sunday evening to be at work on Monday morning and frequently leave on Friday evening. There is no car service then. To solve this issue there could be a transportation sharing platform or a system for pooling costs for the transport. Once the train line from the airport to Schuman and Luxembourg stations opens, there will be less need to use the cars, and demand for the service will decrease. This, in turn, raises the question of whether the reduction in demand has been taken into account when calculating the new budget?

According to the referred memo, the main objective of the plan is “the improvement of the security of Members” as the Parliament would be able to conduct security screenings of drivers before they are hired. Have there been attacks on the MEPs so far? Is there really a risk of this happening, and how is it related specifically to the car service? We take taxis or use sharing economy platforms everywhere, why is using the cars of the European Parliament a greater hazard?

It seems to me that having a designated car service makes us more visible as targets, if anything. When we use taxis or sharing economy cars, the drivers do not know that we are MEPs, whereas in the car service it is clear that we are. Not only to the driver, but also anyone who has basic knowledge of how the car service works.

Introducing panic buttons seems totally absurd. If we are trying to convince people that there is nothing to be afraid of and Europe is a safe place, then this gives the exact opposite signal to the public. Is the suggestion to introduce these buttons based on a risk-assessment analysis?

I have two constructive proposals to make, which could be adopted instead of increasing the car service costs:

  • develop online car sharing platforms that MEPs can use (you might even ask young European entrepreneurs to come up with solutions to boost digital entrepreneurship), and which enable MEPs to register their trips, see the car’s location, and better connect with the driver. The drivers do not have to be employees of the Parliament, the cars do not have to stay in the garage, but can circle around and pick people up. The drivers can be contractors whose background check has been done by the Parliament, if you really think it is necessary, but please economise on the uniforms, nobody sees them anyway; or
  • replace the car service by a limited transport allowance that MEPs can use for carrying out their duties around Brussels and Strasbourg. The allowance should allow MEPs to use whichever means of transport they deem appropriate – be it the metro, train, taxi or a car sharing platform.