SPAIN’S state rail company Renfe is going to take further action to crack down on so-called “phantom reservations”, whereby passengers make multiple bookings thanks to the government’s free-tickets scheme and then only take the journey that is most convenient for them. 

The result of the practice has been fully booked trains that end up with dozens of empty seats, leaving other passengers stranded despite the carriages not running at capacity. 

Since September 1, Renfe has been offering free train travel on some local and mid-distance journeys as part of a government scheme aimed at limiting the impact of rising inflation and easing the cost-of-living crisis for Spaniards. 

Passengers wishing to use the scheme must buy a travel card, the cost of which is then reimbursed once a certain number of journeys have been made. 

Canny users of the scheme, however, have been taking advantage of it to make the multiple bookings that are causing so many problems. 

Renfe is seeking to implement a new system of penalties for the practice by the end of the year, given that the Spanish government has already announced that the tickets scheme will remain in place throughout the year 2023. 

At the end of September, Renfe implemented a limit on the number of reservations passengers can make, but this failed to stop the problem entirely. Now it is willing to go further and actually take away the travel cards from anyone who abuses the system. Sources from the company told Spanish daily El País that other measures on the table include the non-return of the €20 deposit paid for each card.

According to figures from Renfe, the scheme has led to five million passengers using the middle-distance services in September and October, which is 58% up on the same period a year before and 20% up on 2019, the year prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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