From Iceland — What The News: Not Everyone On The Bus

What The News: Not Everyone On The Bus

Published July 4, 2023

Photo by
Art Bicnick

And other news making headlines in recent weeks

Public transit provider Strætó announced in late June that it is raising its fares again on July 1. A single fare will now set riders back 570 ISK, a 3.6% or 20 ISK increase, while the cost of monthly and annual passes will rise by 3.3%. 

The proposed increase was passed by the company‘s board on May 19. According to protocol, bus fares are reviewed twice annually. Bus fares were last increased on October 1, 2022. Since then, the consumer price index is up 5.2%, and the public transit index by 3.5%.

Strætó isn’t the only bus company looking to change things up. While Strætó is, presumably, hoping to retain riders, Bus4U, which operates public transportation in Reykjanesbær, wants fewer people to use their services. OK, not fewer of all people, just fewer refugees. 

Morgunblaðið reported June 20 that the owner of Bus4U, Sævar Baldursson, appeared at a Reykjanesbær town council meeting in May requesting that bus cards be cancelled for refugees and asylum seekers being housed in Reykjanesbær. In his address to the municipality, Sævar alleged that he cannot retain drivers and that other passengers are avoiding the buses because of “certain groups.”

Sævar further proposed a segregated bus system, one for locals and another for refugees and asylum seekers being housed at the Ásbrú refugee camp.

Still in the Reykjanesbær region, a young man in Keflavík is making the news for having his home sold out from under him in a forced auction. In fact, if nothing is done – and fast – he and his family are slated to be evicted June 30 as this issue of the Grapevine hits the streets.

Jakub Polkowski purchased a detached home in Keflavík for him and his parents to live in after being awarded tens of millions of ISK following a serious medical error that left him disabled. He purchased the home in cash without taking a mortgage. Jakub paid 44 million ISK for the 155 square metre home in 2018, but it is estimated to be worth at least 57 million ISK today.

Admittedly unaware of the additional expenses that come with home ownership, including property taxes, utilities payments and insurance, Jakub accrued 2.5 million in debt over the past five years.

That’s when the district commissioner in Keflavík stepped in to force an auction on the home to recoup the money they’re owed. Only one offer was made – for a mere 3 million ISK – and, shockingly, the district commissioner accepted it. So the district commissioner got its 2.5 million debt payment, the owner of a local shipping company got a home for one twentieth of its market value and Jakub is left homeless and without the tens of millions he received in his disability settlement.

To be clear, the district commissioner did not have to accept such a low offer and lawyers that have spoken in the news about the matter have expressed surprise that the sale has gone through.

Is this legal? Well, that’s questionable. Is this decent human behaviour? Absolutely not. But it’s Iceland (Keflavík, no less), so an Icelandic shipping company owner will very likely prevail over a young disabled man.

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