FREE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Transport and especially public transport is at the core
of Smart Growth movement theories. In this presentation,
I will talk about some ideas to extend public transport,
and to stop the all-car society, which is a major cause
of global warming.
Free public transport
many users the problem of public transport is that it is
expensive, often insufficient and not convenient.
we make a comparison between costs and benefits of
public transport and cars, benefits of cars would
certainly be higher, because of the convenience, of the
feeling of freedom and low costs.
we want to reverse this trend, a solution would be free
public transport. There is a French association called
RATP (for: network for the abolition of charged
transport) which lobbies for such an idea in the Paris
area, following examples of various cities in
like Châteauroux, Compiègne or Vitré and in
like Hasselt, which I will detail later.
What would be the impact of free public transport?
First, it might change the habits of people who take
their car because the cost of public transport is too
high for them. For instance, people who have a long ride
between their place of work and their home, or people
with low incomes.
The free nature of this public utility can also be
mind-changing, making people aware of its importance, in
terms of environment and common city life.
Now we can wonder if this is a realistic solution?
Some will claim that if public transport is free, it
could not be financed. First, you have to know that only
30% of the total cost of Parisian public transport comes
from tickets’ sales. What remains is financed by state
tax and corporation tax. Besides, those 30% hardly cover
the cost of tickets’ sales, distribution and control. So
free public transport would be totally possible, without
bankrupting transport firms.
Another argument against it would be that it is unfair
to finance public transport only by state tax, because
not everybody uses it. But this is also true for roads.
Only a minority of people in
has a car, yet everybody pays tax to build and maintain
roads. So why should it be different for public
example: Hasselt in Belgium
The city of Hasselt in Belgium, 70 000 inhabitants, has
set up a free public transport network since 1997. The
urban lines are free for everybody, the regional bus
lines are free only for the citizens of Hasselt.
the same time, the bus network was significantly
improved, frequencies were increased, and new lines were
installed. Two new shuttle buses were provided, one
linking the railway station with the heart of the city,
the other driving around the city.
The measure seems to be a great success. The use of
public transport has risen dramatically. After a year of
activity, the number of passengers increased by 870%, and 23% of the new bus passengers were
former car drivers. That’s a positive point.
But we don’t know if these increases can be attributed
to the free transit or to the increase in frequencies
and number of lines.
the challenge of free public transport is to reduce its
cost and to make it more beneficial than car.
Another way to do this is to charge the use of car in
cities, with the help of tolls or congestion charges.
Urban tolls and congestion charges are current issues
that are debated worldwide, and I will detail later the
famous example of London.
What are the goals?
The first goal is the same as free public transport: to
make car more costly than public transport.
Another goal could also be to reduce congestion inside
cities boundaries, and as a result to reduce pollution
and make city life more pleasant.
What are the limits?
Urban tolls can produce discrimination inside cities,
between rich and poor people.
For instance, this tax is a flat-rate tax, and it falls
more heavily on poor drivers than the rich. So charging
everybody equally may be seen as unfair.
way for the government to deflect this criticism would
be to create a progressive tax calculated by incomes.
The example of
London congestion charge is a fee for motorists
Central London area. A payment of £8 is required
each day when a chargeable vehicle enters the congestion
The aims of the charge are to reduce congestion and
provide investment in public transport.
How does it work? Around the central London Area,
CCTV cameras record vehicles entering and exiting
the zone. They use an
Automatic number plate recognition technology. And
drivers must pay the charge the day they cross the
boundary, and they may pay on the
SMS, in shops, or by phone.
After one year of service, a report showed that on
average the number of cars entering the central zone was
30% less than the previous year.
60% of the people who drop their cars chose public
transport, and 20% car-sharing or bicycles.
Congestion was down around 26% in comparison with the
pre charge period.
The profit of the charge is around 150£ millions per
year, which are totally dedicated to public
it is a great success, in terms of decreased congestion
and increased use of public transport.
But it has had negative effect on business and trade
inside the central area.
There are many realistic ways to stop the all-car
society and to increase public transportation networks.
This is only a matter of political will and choice.