Monday, November 29

Free Public Transport: The Cases of Europe


Free Public Transport: The Cases of Europe

Can you imagine always traveling by bus, train or tram without having to pay for the ticket? Well in Luxembourg you can do it, since it is the first and only country in the world to offer free public transport. And it is that since March 2020, the entire territory introduced what is known as universal public transport without fare (FFPT) for all modes of transport (bus, train or tram) and users (residents, border workers and tourists). Although it is still too early to assess the real impact of this measure on the country’s society and economy, it is true that there has already been an increase in the use of the tram, which has passed from 32,000 to 55,000 users per day. For its part, the loss of income from the sale of tickets has been taken into account in the national budget and, in the same way that occurs with other public services, it is financed with general taxes.

Over time, this measure has been adopted in other cities around the world and Europe concentrates the majority of cases, with a total of 56, with Poland (21) and France (20) being the top countries on the list. “In 1980, there were only six. By 2000, the number had risen to 56. Today, it exists in at least 115 cities and towns around the world,” he says. Wojciech Keblowski, Researcher in Urban Planning at the Free University of Brussels.

As the DGT explains in its Traffic and Road Safety magazine, the reasons that have led these cities to implement free public transport are different. In Avesta (Sweden) or Velchatów (Poland), for example, they look for reduce car use; in Prague (Czech Republic) they apply this measure punctually when there is pollution peaks; and in Lubin (Poland), Colomiers (France) and Compiègne (France) offer it with the aim of promoting social inclusion of the most disadvantaged.

The case of Ontinyent (Valencia)

In Spain we also have an example of free public transport. Since January 2020, Ontinyent, a Valencian town with more than 35,000 inhabitants, made its urban bus service free to increase the use of public transport. The result was very positive, despite the pandemic, restrictions on mobility and fear of contagion. Then the number of annual trips made went from about 34,000 to 95,000.

The case of Dunkirk (France)

A similar case occurred in Dunkerque (France). And it is that the French city that has had a free bus since 2018, increased by 85% the number of public transport passengers. It should be noted that before the application of the measure, the collection of tickets represented 9-10% of the total, a deficit that has been covered with an increase of one tax on employers with more than 11 workers under their care. This tax contributes to 70% of the financing of the free system and the remaining 30% is provided by the municipal authority.

The case of Tallinn (Estonia)

Tallinn (Estonia), with 400,000 inhabitants, is the largest city that currently has free public transport. This has happened since 2013 and only affects residents. To finance the third of the income previously obtained from ticket sales, the city receives 1,000 euros for each registered citizen. And to travel throughout the city at no cost, each resident must pay 2 euros for a smart card allowing you to move freely.

Despite having registered an increase in the number of people using public transport, it is true that car use has not decreased. According Janar Holm, Auditor General of the National Audit Office: “Public transport has not been attractive enough for people and can be inconvenient and time consuming.” Likewise, a increase in public spending: in 2017 it cost 22 million and in 2019 it went to 43 million.

Is it an effective measure? The case of Hasselt (Belgium)

The Belgian city Hasselt was forced to eliminate free public transport in 2014, after 16 years of operation, due to not being able to finance it, since at that time the cost of the service quadrupled.

John Hultén, director of the Swedish National Knowledge Center for Public Transport, has produced a report on the feasibility of this measure and argues that so that public transport can be free a well-functioning public transport system is essential. Hultén considers that the way in which the measure is financed is very important and that “it should have an impact on car mobility, through taxes or fees that affect the traffic of these vehicles, instead of reducing the funds available for maintenance or development. of public transport “. “It is clear that free public transport alone cannot achieve the goals of a more sustainable system. But it will be exciting to follow the experiences of free solutions that are now being introduced in Luxembourg,” concludes Hultén.


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