Luxembourg recently became the first country in the world to make all public transport free. As of March 1 2020, all buses, trains and trams throughout the country can be boarded without paying a fare – the largest area to institute free public transport for both residents and tourists so far.
Free public transport, however, isn’t a new idea. Cities and towns have been experimenting with it since 1960 – Luxembourg merely clinches the title of the first country to roll it out nationwide. Today, at least 98 cities and towns around the world have some form of free public transport. In some areas, only residents can use it, or certain groups, such as senior citizens.
Get The Latest By Email
It’s often introduced to encourage people to use their cars less – reducing congestion in cities and lowering air pollution and carbon emissions.
But does it work?
No ticket to ride
Economists tend to argue that free public transport is irrational and uneconomical because it generates “useless mobility”. This means that people will choose to move more simply because it’s free, increasing the costs of transport operators and subsidies for local authorities, while ultimately increasing emissions from public transport.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that introducing free public transport increases the number of people using it. Strong passenger growth has been reported everywhere free public transport has been introduced, and the effects are more evident after several years.
Research has also found that when fares are removed, only a small number of people who previously travelled by car make the switch. New passengers attracted by it tend to be pedestrians and cyclists rather than car drivers. The picture from most cities where free public transport has been introduced is that the increased passenger numbers overwhelmingly come from people who might have walked, cycled or not travelled otherwise.
Three years after fares were abolished in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, the number of bus passengers increased from 55% to 63%, while car journeys decreased only slightly (from 31% to 28%), together with walking (from 12% to 7%). Cycling (1%) and others (1%) remained the same.
Experts from the Cosmopolis Centre in Brussels agree that the effects of free public transport on car traffic levels are marginal, arguing that by itself free public transport cannot significantly reduce car use and traffic, or improve air quality.
So what can? Well, the researchers found that the behaviour of motorists and the transport mode they choose depends very little on public transport fares. Rather than relying on free public transport to engineer the shift, a more effective way to reduce the number of people choosing to drive could be regulating car use.
Increasing the cost of parking, congestion charging, or increasing fuel taxes could all be combined with free fares to lower car demand.
How successful fare abolition is at tempting people to use buses and trams depends on the quality of the service. Cleaner and more reliable public transport must be a prerequisite for these schemes if buses and trams are to compete with the car, and making it part of a wider investment plan could have a big impact on the sustainability of transport.
Fare abolition can help to make public transport visible as a valid alternative to the car in cities where many residents might have forgotten about it over time, due to chronic underinvestment.
Free public transport may not be effective for making transport sustainable on its own, but it can have plenty of other benefits that make it worthwhile. It can be a progressive social policy, guaranteeing and improving access to public transport for diverse groups that might otherwise struggle to get around.
About The Author
Enrica Papa, Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning, University of Westminster
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon
Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy
by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
by Naomi Klein
In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon
From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.