Advantageous rates for local residents
Advantageous rates for local residents are prohibited as a matter of principle as they would present an advantage for locals over other EU citizens according to EU law. Nevertheless, such discounts do exist in Austria.
Taking a cable car in a Tyrolean ski area is cheaper for local residents than for tourists. At other cable car companies, Tyroleans can purchase their ski pass at reduced child fare rates. In some areas, local residents receive a "bonus card" with which they can buy season tickets at a reduced rate. In classy ski resorts, you have to prove that your working place is in the area in order to use the ski lift at a reduced rate.
Discrimination with regards to the freedom of services
Situations where locals with a primary residence within the municipal district get cheaper tickets than persons from abroad, are legally problematic. The EU considers such discounts as discrimination with regards to the freedom of services.
In principle, every EU citizen has to be able to use services at the same conditions in every EU Member State. This applies to cable cars as well as to public swimming baths or theatres.
Advantageous rates for locals not visible at ticket offices
In many cases, advantageous rates for local residents are not officially announced at ticket offices. The calculation basis is either the nationality (non-Austrian citizens pay more) or the place of residence (those without a principal residence in the town pay more, regardless of their nationality).
Municipalities with a high frequency of tourists argue with better utilisation of facilities off-season. Politicians request that local residents should be able to use publicly owned facilities at a reduced rate. Private companies, like cablecar operators, reason the reductions with problems that occur due to tourism, like traffic load, noise pollution or higher prices in supermarkets, that locals have to live with.
Italy: Different prices for admission tickets to museums inadmissible
Already in 2003, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that different prices for admission tickets to monuments, museums or other cultural facilities in Italy are inadmissible. Back then, the admission was free for Italian citizens above a certain age or local residents, and all other visitors had to purchase admission tickets. The ECJ stated that this was incompatible with the non-discrimination principle (which prohibits discrimination due to nationality) and with the freedom of services.
State authorities, companies, citizens
The freedom to provide services represents an obligation to the Member States primarily. However, this fundamental freedom does not only apply to state authorities, but also to legal relationships between private individuals due to the EU Services Directive. The non-discrimination principle is therefore valid for service recipients (European citizens and companies) and also applies to advantageous rates for local residents.
Services in the field of transport (bus, rail, ship and flight)
International transportation services like transportation of persons and goods by bus, rail, ship or plane, including local transport, taxis and ambulance services are excluded from the Services Directive. Cable cars, chair lifts and tow lifts with the purpose of transporting persons in touristic areas in mountain regions (ski areas) are not considered as exclusive transportation services and therefore fall under the Services Directive.
A private entrepreneur (like a ski lift operator) is therefore obliged to treat all EU citizens equally. National courts can initiate legal proceedings in order to check if the operators meet this obligation.
Implementation of the Services Directive in Austria in 2010
The EU Services Directive came into force on EU level on January 1st, 2010. It was implemented in Austria on November 22, 2011 (Austrian Services Act, Dienstleistungsgesetz). The explicit non-discrimination principle regarding recipients of services is included as "principle of equal treatment" ("Gleichbehandlungsgebot"). The exact wording in the law is: "The terms and conditions of a service provider with regards to the access to a service do not contain discriminatory provisions relating to the nationality or place of residence of the recipient, but without precluding the possibility of providing for differences in the conditions of access where those differences are directly justified by objective criteria."
Entitlement to equal treatment with nationals
EU citizens who are discriminated due to advantageous rates for local residents can refer to the Services Law as well as to the entitlement to equal treatment of nationals resulting from the Services Directive. Citizens can raise their claims against independent service providers. According to the law, this is every natural person with an EEA-nationality as well as every legal person situated in an EEA state, who offers or provides services for remuneration. Violations of the principle of equal treatment are punished with a fine up to € 3000,- and can be reported to the respective authority in charge (regional district authority, "Bezirkshauptmannschaft").
By now, some ski lift operators grant discounts in form of so-called "bonus cards".
Discounts that are only available for Austrian citizens are always prohibited by Union law. Discounts that are only given to local residents are also prohibited in principle, but may be justified due to objective reasons such as for example the preservation of the local social structure and the reasons need to be proportionate. If locals have to pay special taxes or fees in order to, for example, finance a public swimming bath, a reduced admission price can be justified.
- Non-discrimination principle: Reduced tariffs with regards to nationality ("Discount for Austrian nationals") are prohibited without exception.
- Exceptions: Tariffs with benefits for local residents may be justified under specific circumstances, for example if locals would otherwise not be able to use public facilities.
- Legal basis: Austria has implemented the EU Services Directive. As a principle, all EU citizens should be treated equally.
- Citizens who feel discriminated can report it to the lcompetent regional district authority.
- In many cases, local tariffs are not made public, but nevertheless exist.