Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Case for Free Public Transit




The Case for Free Public Transit
Video published 7 July, 2018 by Free Transit Toronto

Just Mobility and Urban Planning The campaign for free public transit is a rapidly growing international movement, with several cities in Canada and many more in the U.S. taking up the effort.

Public transit is crucial to social reproduction, and a crucial linkage between workplace and community struggles (too often neglected by unions and community activists alike). Just mobility in the social provision of transit is central to workers, racialized communities, women, the disabled, youth and seniors – all disproportionately dependent on public transit.

Free public transit is, perhaps, the most immediate step we could take to address climate change and should be at the top of the agenda of the ecology movements (who remain far too entranced by market solutions and the pricing of carbon as policy reforms). It is a demand for decommodification of daily life and it is pivotal to re-orienting urban planning away from car dependence and thus integral to any effort to form ‘rebel cities’ that reclaim urban spaces from endless commercialization, gridlock and pollution, and the concrete barricades partitioning the capitalist and professional classes off from the urban crises of housing, poverty and much else spreading in all directions. Free public transit is at the heart of re-imagining how an anti-capitalist urban politics might be. 

This video features the Toronto launch of a unique book, Free Public Transit – And Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators (2018), edited by Judith Dellheim of Berlin’s Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and Jason Prince of Concordia University in Montreal. It is a collaborative result of an international network of scholars and transit activists working for fare-free public transit. 

The book provides an overall analysis of public transportation and describes and discusses various efforts in cities around the world to build movements for decommodified and accessible public transport. Examples include Toronto, Montreal, Bologna, Seattle, New York, Hasselt, Tallinn, Stockholm and others. Public transit is a need and a social right. Demand free fares.

The launch featured a discussion about the promises, challenges and social underpinnings of free public transit. Moderated by Taraneh Zarin. Presentations by:
* Jason Prince: co-editor of the book, teaches at Concordia University, and is a Montreal based urban planner
* Herman Rosenfeld: chapter author in the book, transit activist in Toronto
* Sabrina ‘Butterfly’ GoPaul: Jane Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP)
* Shelagh Pizey-Allen: executive director of TTC riders

Recorded in Toronto, 21 June 2018

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This innovative French city has made public transport free.




VIDEO BY WORLD ECONOMY, Published on Oct 24, 2018
This Innovative French city has made public transport free.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018


'I leave the car at home': how free buses are revolutionising one French city

One month after the French channel port of Dunkirk introduced free public transport for all, a small revolution is taking place.

By Kim Willsher, The Guardian, in Dunkirk, 15 October 2018  

The free bus service in Dunkirk was initially offered on weekends and national holidays but was extended a month ago to operate every day. Photo: Francois Lo Presti/AFP/Getty Images

Dunkirk is a month into a project that makes it the biggest European city to offer entirely free public transport to residents and visitors alike. So what do people think?

Two women, perfect strangers until now, are chatting across the aisle about nothing in particular. One admits she sometimes takes the bus “just for the fun of it”. A young man wearing headphones is charging his mobile in a socket just above the “request stop” button.
On another bus, Claude Pointart, 65, who is retired, says free buses mean her pension goes further. “I’m saving money and they come every 10 minutes so I don’t have to wait long. But there’s a lot more people taking the bus so you have to avoid the rush hour if you want to sit. Still, I think it’s a good thing.”

 
Claude Pointart, a passenger on a Dunkirk bus. Photo: Emmanuelle Depecker

On a city bus making its way around the historic port city, passengers smile at the driver and say “Bonjour” as they board. Some of the city’s fleet of new buses, painted in dazzling colours – pink, orange, green, yellow and blue, with upholstery to match – have wifi. The urban authorities have plans for debates, music and possibly the occasional celebrity on board. A “Sport-Bus” with an interactive game, quiz screen and a selfie camera is already in operation.

Georges Contamin, 51, says he has reconsidered how he travels about the city since the buses became fare-free. “Before, I almost never took the bus, but the fact they are now free as well as the increase in the cost of car fuel has made me reflect on how I get about,” Contamin says: I never used the bus before. It was too much bother getting tickets or a pass.

Marie, passenger: 'It's so easy'

At the bus stop opposite the port, even the persistent drizzle and howling wind rocking the boats cannot dampen Marie’s enthusiasm. “I never used the bus before,” she says. “It was too much bother getting tickets or a pass. Now I leave the car at home and take the bus to and from work. It’s so easy.”

One month ago, Dunkirk – with a metropolitan population of 200,000 – became the largest city in Europe to offer free public transport. There are no trams, trolleybuses or local commuter trains, but the hop-on-hop-off buses are accessible and free – requiring no tickets, passes or cards – for all passengers, even visitors .

The scheme took its inspiration from Tallinn in Estonia, which in 2013 became the first European capital to offer a fare-free service on buses, trams and trolleybuses, but only to residents who are registered with the municipality. They pay €2 for a “green card”, after which all journeys are free. The city has reported an increase of 25,000 in the number of registered residents – the number previously stood at 416,000 – for which the local authorities receives €1,000 of each resident’s income tax every year.

 
Residents of Tallin in Estonia pay €2 for a green card which gives them free access to buses, trams and trolleybuses. Photo: STRINGER/EPA

Free urban transport is spreading. In his research Wojciech Keblowski, an expert on urban research at Brussels Free University, says that in 2017 there were 99 fare-free public transport networks around the world: 57 in Europe, 27 in North America, 11 in South America, 3 in China and one in Australia. Many are smaller than Dunkirk and offer free transit limited to certain times, routes and people.

In February this year, Germany announced it was planning to trial free public transport in five cities – including the former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. In June this was downgraded to a slashing of public transport fares to persuade people to ditch cars.

The largest in the world is in Changning , in China’s Hunan province, where free transit has been in operation since 2008. Passenger numbers reportedly jumped by 60% on the day it was introduced.

A study into free public transport by online journal Metropolitics found an increase in mobility among older and younger people, and an increased sense of freedom.

France

Niort in west France introduced free buses for its 125,000 residents a year ago. Like Dunkirk, its income from fares was around 10%. The city authorities say passenger numbers have been boosted by 130% on some routes.

One month on, the Dunkirk mayor, Patrice Vergriete, who promised free public transport in his 2014 election campaign, says the project has been an overwhelming success, with a 50% increase in passenger numbers on some routes, and up to 85% on others.

Sitting in his large office under a poster of Nelson Mandela, Vergriete claims it is a win-win measure for his home city, where previously 65% of trips were made by car, 5% by bus and 1% by bicycle. The other 29% walked.

“The subject of free public transport is full of dogma and prejudice and not much research. This dogma suggests that if something is free it has no value. We hear this all the time in France,” he says.

 
Free public transport for Dunkirk was a key promise of Mayor Patrice Vergriete’s 2014 electoral campaign. Photo: youaintseenme/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Money, he says, is the obvious inconvenience. Before the buses were free, fares raised around 10% of the network’s €47m (£41.6m) annual running costs. A further 60% was funded by the versement transport, a French public transport levy on companies and public bodies with more than 11 employees, and 30% came from the local authority. Vergriete says a rise in the company transport tax has made up the fare shortfall – meaning no rise in taxes for local households.

Bus routes have been extended, with special lanes and city centre priority introduced. The fleet has been expanded from 100 to 140 buses, including new greener vehicles which run on natural gas.

“The increase in passengers since it went free has surprised us; now we have to keep them. We’re trying to make people look at buses differently. We have put the bus back into people’s head as a means of transport, and it has changed attitudes.
It may be that the financial cost is too great, but don’t underestimate the social advantages. You can’t put a price on mobility and social justice.

Dunkirk Mayor: ‘You can’t put a price on mobility and social justice’

“Before, when they paid, it was a service and they were customers. They may have been only contributing 10% of the cost of running the service but they thought it was theirs. Now it’s a public service they look at it differently. They say ‘bonjour’ to the driver, they talk to each other. We are changing perceptions and transforming the city with more vivre ensemble. We are reinventing the public space.

“Before the bus was for those who had no choice: the young, the old, the poor who don’t have cars. Now it’s for everyone.”

Free public transport, however, also has its critics. The French transport union UTP believes fare-free transport is often “associated in France with a lack of value and, by extension, a lack of respect”.

Claude Faucher of the UTP said: “That it should be free for those passengers with financial difficulties … could be perhaps justified. However, completely fare-free for all users would, we believe, deprive [public] transport of resources that are useful and necessary for development.”

In Paris the income from tickets on public transport is reported to make up half the running costs. When mayor Anne Hidalgo suggested she would look at scrapping fares, Frédéric Héran, a transport economist, said the measure “made no sense”.

“Who will the new public transport users be?” he asked. “All studies have shown they will be cyclists, then pedestrians and very few motorists. This clearly shows it’s an anti-cycling, anti-pedestrian measure and not very discouraging to cars.”

Vergriete believes this is all part of an erroneous received dogma. He admits free public transport may not work everywhere, but says that, as well as being good for the environment, it is a social measure, a gesture of “solidarity” and promotes a more egalitarian redistribution of wealth than tax cuts.

 “We have been pragmatic: we looked at the advantages of free transport and weighed them against the disadvantages and decided €7m is not a lot to pay for all the benefits.

If I can pass one message to other mayors it’s to fight the dogma. Put the advantages and disadvantages on the table and consider it realistically. It may be that the financial cost is too great, but don’t underestimate the social advantages. You can’t put a price on mobility and social justice.”


 
Passengers wait on a Paris metro platform. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo




This Guardian article has been reprinted by FareFree New Zealand, October 2018. [Slightly abridged]
For more information on Free Public Transport, go to:  http://farefreenz.blogspot.com
Email the editor: roger.fowler@icloud.com

Thursday, September 6, 2018

French city of Dunkirk gets Tallinn-style free public transport

Mayor of Tallinn Taavi Aas (right) with his Dunkirk counterpart Patrice Vergriete.
Mayor of Tallinn Taavi Aas (right) with his Dunkirk counterpart Patrice Vergriete. Source: Raepress
Mayor of Tallinn Taavi Aas was in the northeastern French city of Dunkirk (Dunkerque) on Tuesday at a conference marking the rolling-out of a free public transport system there.
The free transport network, available to approximately 200,000 residents in the city and its environs, actually began working on 1 September and is the largest city in France to offer the service to its inhabitants, according to a Tallinn City Council press release.
Mayor of Dunkirk Patrice Vergriete reportedly held up Tallinn as an example of how free transport systems can work in practice, with the need for further expansion on an international scale outlined by both mayors.
''Following the example of our cities, the free public transport debate has opened up in Paris, Bucharest and various German cities,'' claimed Mr. Aas (Centre).
''We are open to sharing our experience with everyone,'' he went on, noting that free public transport was not just confined to Tallinn, having been implemented in the county line buses of most of Tallinn's 16 counties this summer.
''The capital city and the Estonian state working together not only enhance our message in the field of public transport, but also in areas such as natural conservation and digital development,'' he went on.
Other city dignitaries present at the meeting came from all over France, including southern French Aubagne district council chief Sylvia Barthelemy and Mayor of the Châteauroux, in central France, Gil Averous.
Tallinn representative to the EU, journalist Allan Alaküla, gave a talk on the prospects of international cooperation in the field of free public transport, it is reported, and speakers from Poland, Germany, Spain and Brazil were also present.
Free public transport to all Tallinn residents, who have to validate a swipe card on boarding a bus, tram or trolleybus, began in 2013.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: Tallinn City Council

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Should All Public Transit Be Free?


 
 By John Cookson, BigThink.

More than half of the world’s population lives near an urban centre. But as our cities grow increasing traffic has clogged roads and highways.  In much of the U.S., a car—there are 246 million registered, as of 2009—is a near-necessity. Meanwhile, longer commutes have been linked with severe health problems, according to a recent report by Gallup.
Public transportation systems hold the promise of more efficient movement—and a healthier population—but in many U.S. cities there are few incentives to promote widespread use of buses, subways, trolleys and trains.
A way to realign these incentives and increase public transit use is to make all public transportation free to passengers, Erik Olin Wright, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told Big Think. According to Wright, the benefits of free public transit are broader than are apparent with strict financial bookkeeping. The full value comes in a range of ancillary economic, health and ecological benefits, including:
  • "Reduced air pollution, including especially reduced greenhouse gases, which would help mitigate global warming."
  • "More efficient labor markets since it is easier for poor people to get to jobs. This is a benefit to employers for it makes it easier to hire people and it is a benefit to the people without cars who now find it easier to get jobs. But it is also a benefit to the society at large because it contributes to a long-term reduction in poverty."
  • "Health benefits: reduced asthma and other illnesses linked to automobile generated pollution." 
  • "Less congestion on the highways for those who do need to drive."
These "positive externalities" need to be highlighted to gain public support for free transit, says Wright.
College towns have been a testing ground for free-ride transit—for students and non-students alike. Programs currently operate in cities such as Clemson, South Carolina, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  As well, popular tourist towns from Park City, Utah, to Hawaii’s Big Island have created free systems. Baltimore, too, recently started the Charm City Circulator, a fleet of twenty-one buses traveling three free routes in the city. Other transit systems have free-fare programs for children, students and the elderly.
The key is to scale an already-subsidized industry with select free-fare groups into a system-wide program free to all.  This would create a tipping point toward more people using public transportation. "Of course public transportation has to be paid for,” writes Wright, “but it should not be paid for through the purchase of tickets by individual riders—it should be paid for by society as a whole through the one mechanism we have available for this, taxation."
"This should not be thought of as a 'subsidy' in the sense of a transfer of resources to an inefficient service in order for it to survive," he says, "but rather as the optimal allocation of our resources to create the transportation environment in which people can make sensible individual choices between public and private means of transformation that reflect the true costs of these alternatives."


Link to original: https://bigthink.com/think-tank/should-all-public-transit-be-free

Estonia To Become The World’s First Free Public Transport Nation



 

by Regina Schröter celebrating  EU Green Week Pop Up City, 16 May 2018

Tallinn, known for its digital government and successful tech startups, is often referred to as Europe’s innovation capital. Now celebrating five years of free public transport for all citizens, the government is planning to make Estonia the first free public transport nation.

Allan Alaküla, Head of Tallinn European Union Office, shares some valuable insights for other cities.
Five years ago, citizens of Tallinn were asked in a referendum if free public transport should be realized. Why should citizens be involved in such political decisions?
“A decision for a long-term project should not only be taken by the current elected council, but it should be locked politically by asking for support from the public. Although a local referendum is not legally binding, the mandate from the popular vote is stronger than just from the council.”

To ride Tallinn’s network of trams, buses and trains for free, you must be registered as a resident, which makes the municipality profit €1,000 from your income tax every year. All you need to do then is getting a €2 green card and carrying your ID on public transport
How does this work out for the municipality?
“There’s no doubt that we not only cover the costs, but also come out with a surplus. We earned double as much as we have lost since introducing free public transport. We’re happy to see that so many people are motivated to register as residents in Tallinn to make use of free public transport.”
Who is profiting the most from free buses, trams and trains in Tallinn?
“A good thing is, of course, that it mostly appeals to people with lower to medium incomes. But free public transport also stimulates the mobility of higher-income groups. They are simply going out more often for entertainment, to restaurants, bars and cinemas. Therefore they consume local goods and services and are likely to spend more money, more often. In the end this makes local businesses thrive. It breathes new life into the city.”
What further actions is Tallinn taking to make the use of individual transport less attractive?
“Before introducing free public transport, the city center was crammed with cars. This situation has improved — also because we raised parking fees. When non-Tallinners leave their cars in a park-and-ride and check in to public transport on the same day, they can’t only use public transport for free, but also won’t be charged the parking fee. We noticed that people didn’t complain about high parking fees once we offered them a good alternative.”
What inspired the Estonian government to introduce free public transport all over the country?
“People in other parts of Estonia started to demand free public transport, too. In Wales, an experiment with free public transport is about to end in May, but has already been extended for another year. Taking this as an example, we would also like to remove the public transport ticketing for all rural connections in Estonia.”

What advice would you give to other European cities that are hesitant to implement free transport?
“Tallinn’s approach is not a universal solution for all and for some it might be too extreme. We know examples of cities in Poland, Germany and France that already realized free public transport or are considering it. But we’re also seeing plenty of partially free public transport ideas are being executed, ranging from free weekend rides and lower fares in off-peak hours to free public transport for the retired and students. Municipalities should be brave to use their city as a testing ground to find out what system is realistic for them to implement.”
Which city will be the next to copy Tallinn’s successful system?
“Right now, Paris is considering the introduction of free public transport — mostly to reduce pollution in the city center. Once a city of this size and scale takes the step, other cities will inevitably follow. No doubt about that.”


https://popupcity.net
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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Vaughan Gunson: A tourist tax could help fund free public transport in Whangārei

xnzherald.co.nz What I'd like to see, is any tax levied on tourists enjoying our harbour and publicly supported assets like the Hundertwasser, going towards helping us to fund free public transport.
Fare-free public transport now exists in around 100 cities and towns worldwide (with the list growing). The benefits are many: reduced private transport costs, greater freedom for younger people, less road congestion and a meaningful way of reducing net carbon emissions.
This bold idea could be sold to tourists by saying that their travel - one of the most carbon-polluting things you can do - will be offset by a levy that goes directly towards lessening the carbon emissions of the region they are visiting.
Tourists would, of course, be able to take advantage of the free public transport themselves - an attraction in itself.
This new tax could be called the "International Visitors Carbon Emissions Offset and Free Public Transport Levy". A bit of a mouthful, but they'll get the idea.
You can just see hotel staff being asked the question: "What's that charge for?"
"Oh, that's for offsetting your carbon emissions as a result of traveling to our country by helping us pay for our lovely free bus service."
Tourist: "Fair enough."

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

European cities consider making public transport free to tackle air pollution


By Rory Mulholland, Paris, The Telegraph, 25 March 2018

European cities are increasingly looking toward free transport in a bid to combat air pollution. 
Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor, is the latest local leader hoping to make public transport free across the city, emulating the success of a handful of small towns across France which let residents board buses and trams without paying a cent.
The German government is also considering rolling out free transport across the entire country - with the same aim as in France of reducing air pollution - if a pilot scheme in five big cities this year works out.
Niort in western France has been running free buses since last September for its 125,000 inhabitants.
The scheme has been an enormous success, boosting passenger numbers by 130 per cent on some routes, slightly reducing the number of cars on the roads, and costing the town little more than when people had to buy tickets, said mayor Jérôme Baloge.
 
 Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is keen to make the city less polluted by the 2024 Olympic Games  Credit: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
But he agreed that making metros, buses, trams and suburban trains free in a big city is a far more radical, if not revolutionary, idea.
“In Niort the revenue from ticket sales represented only 10 per cent of cost of running public transport. In Paris it’s around half… And our buses were often half empty, while in Paris the metro and buses are packed,” he said.
Ms Hidalgo said last week that she was commissioning a study into free transport and wants officials and experts to report back by the end of 2018 on whether the scheme would be financially feasible.
The mayor has made a priority of tackling smog and is to ban diesel cars in the capital by 2024, when Paris will host the Summer Olympics.
The study will also look at the possibility of introducing a toll, like London's congestion charge, to discourage motorists from driving into Paris.
Supporters of the toll say it could be used to offset the cost of providing free transport.
Ms Hidalgo only has power over the city of Paris, which with 2.2 million residents makes up only a small part of the greater Paris region with a population of more than 12 million - 4.2 million of whom use public transport.
Valérie Pecresse, the conservative head of the wider Paris region and a rival of Ms Hidalgo, said she was "open to all new ideas" but warned the mayor against "going it alone" on free transport.
Ticket sales bring in €3 billion (£2.6 billion) a year that offset the total transport budget of €10 billion for the region, she noted, saying that this would have to be compensated for somehow and that she would not settle for "a euro less".
There was similar consternation about who was going to pay when it was revealed last month that the German government was looking at plans to make public transport free to try to reduce road traffic and lower pollution levels.

Free transport will be tested in five cities, including the former capital Bonn and the industrial cities Essen and Mannheim, by the end of the year, and if successful will be rolled out to more cities across the country, ministers said.
But Helmut Dedy, the head of the Council of German Cities, warned that the federal government would have to finance public transport if it wanted to make it free.
Most local transport in Germany is owned by municipalities.
Greenpeace came up with an original idea - it proposed that the government “should make sure that the car manufacturers finance the emergency measure” of free transport.

The Case for Free Public Transport



The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is a proud advocate of a world-class, fare-free public transport system for Scotland.
Transport has undergone enormous changes in recent decades, both in Scotland and across the world. Some have been cyclical: in Scotland’s capital, trams were built, dismantled, and then reintroduced. In other areas, we have seen consistent trends like the steady deregulation and privatization of services, which has left Edinburgh as the sole city in Scotland with a municipal bus operator.


Rail fares across the UK have soared in comparison to those of our European neighbours, and Scottish transport contracts go out to tender in a farcical franchise system whereby public sector companies in other countries can bid for control while those in Scotland are effectively barred.
Scotland, the country which gave the world the pedal bicycle and the pneumatic tyre, now has a public transport network which is broadly unfit for purpose.
Massive changes have to be made to ensure that our public transport network is not only of a standard befitting the people of Scotland, but one that is adapted to our environmental and economic needs – challenging climate change while connecting communities and creating jobs through enhanced mobility.

“We call unashamedly for the integration of services – whether bus, rail, ferry, underground or tram – under publicly-owned and democratically-run operators.”
The Scottish Socialist Party is brave enough to identify these changes. We call unashamedly for the integration of services – whether bus, rail, ferry, underground or tram – under publicly-owned and democratically-run operators.
But the bravest step we can take as a nation to totally transform the way we travel is to support the international movement for free public transport and become pioneers of true freedom of movement for working class people.
There is a strong economic, social, and environmental case for adopting this policy throughout the country. There is also precedent from successful fare-free public transport schemes in parts of France, Germany, Belgium, and Estonia as well as far-flung cities in China and the United States. [Ed.: see wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_public_transport, and FreeTransitToronto.org.] We have evidence of the policy’s affordability and benefit.
I would put to sceptics that the prospect of free healthcare was once unthinkable. With the creation of NHS Scotland in 1948, hundreds of thousands of people gained access to essential medical care for the first time; the positive impact on Scottish society has been immense. The threat of privatization and marketization is a terrifying prospect for many.
In the same spirit that the NHS was created over half a century ago, we can come together to build a public transport system that works for everyone. We can tackle poverty and social exclusion by extending access across urban and rural Scotland; this will be a financial relief for workers, parents and carers on low incomes, and make it even easier for families to switch from road trips to more eco-friendly bus rides and train journeys.
Building free transport links between rural communities even brings forward the possibility of economic regeneration in the Highlands, the Scottish Borders, and rural Fife, where greater interconnectivity and public investment could instigate growth and begin to reverse the exodus of young people from small towns and villages.
Free transport is neither easy nor cheap, nor can it alone transform Scotland. However, as part of a comprehensive socialist strategy, it can radically change the conditions of Scottish workers and help realise the full potential of totally under-utilized modes of transport.
The SSP has a good track record of winning others to our ideas. We championed free prescriptions in Holyrood and led the broad-based campaign to tackle poverty through the provision free school meals. We are committed supporters of universalism and pioneered many policies which were later taken up by the mainstream parties.

Ambition and Vision

Free transport is yet another distinctive SSP policy with ambition, vision and a firm footing in the needs and aspirations of Scotland. It is a policy whose implementation is not only possible, but increasingly necessary – addressing the pressing ecological crisis facing the world as well as the acute issues of poverty and exclusion at home.
These are among the reasons why free transport proposals are becoming more and more popular across Europe. Many in Scotland point to more affordable and efficient public transport systems in countries like Germany to highlight the shortcomings of our own – but to seek merely to emulate them is to limit our ambition, as proven by the spirited HVV umsonst! campaigners now pushing to scrap fares in Germany’s second-largest city.
In Sweden, anarchist initiative Planka.nu takes a particularly brazen approach to free transport campaigning by encouraging members of the public to leap ticket barriers, while operating a shared pool of funds to pay off any subsequent fines for its members.
Even in Scotland, understanding and appetite for the policy is slowly building. Scottish Green activists came close to persuading the rest of their party to back the progressive policy when it was revisited at their 2014 party conference.
It is often easier in politics to identify problems than solutions. For the SSP, free transport is a valuable idea that carries great potential as an innovative solution to an intersection of problems. For this reason, it is a policy that socialists will develop and promote further in the run-up to next year’s Scottish Parliament election. •
Connor Beaton is the branch organizer of Dundee Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). He serves on the SSP’s Executive Committee.

German cities to trial free public transport to cut pollution

German cities to trial free public transport to cut pollution
Plan to be tested in five cities in effort to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines.
The Guardian, Wed 14 Feb 2018

 
Public transport is hugely popular in Germany, with 10.3 billion journeys being made in 2017. A plan to trial free public transport is part of an effort to reduce road traffic. [Photo: Alamy] 

“Car nation” Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines.
The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen’s devastating “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity.
“We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three ministers including the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, wrote to EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday.

 “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany,” the ministers added.
The proposal will be tested by “the end of this year at the latest” in five cities across western Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim.
The move is a radical one for the normally staid world of German politics – especially as Chancellor Angela Merkel is presently only governing in a caretaker capacity, as Berlin waits for the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD) to confirm a hard-fought coalition deal.
On top of ticketless travel, other steps proposed Tuesday include further restrictions on emissions from vehicle fleets like buses and taxis, low-emissions zones or support for car-sharing schemes.
Action is needed soon, as Germany and eight fellow EU members including Spain, France and Italy sailed past a 30 January deadline to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.
Vella gave countries extra time to present further pollution-busting measures or face legal action.
“Life-threatening” pollution affects more than 130 cities in Europe, according to the commission, causing some 400,000 deaths and costing €20bn euros (US$24.7bn) in health spending per year in the bloc.
Countries that fail to keep to EU limits could face legal action at the European court of justice, the EU’s highest tribunal, which can levy fines on member states.
Even without the pressure from Brussels, air quality has surged to the top of Berlin’s priorities over the past year.
Suspicions over manipulated emissions data have spread to other car manufacturers since Volkswagen’s 2015 admission to cheating regulatory tests on 11 million vehicles worldwide.
Environmentalists brought court cases aimed at banning diesels from parts of some city centres, and fears millions of drivers could be affected spurred Merkel into action.
Titans like BMW, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler or the world’s biggest carmaker Volkswagen agreed to pay some €250m euros into a billion-euro fund to upgrade local transport.
The government “should make sure that the car manufacturers finance the emergency measure” of free transport, Greenpeace urged, adding that more parking and road tolls in cities could help reduce urban traffic.
On their own account, the auto firms have stepped up plans to electrify their ranges, with a barrage of battery-powered or hybrid models planned for the coming decade.

Public transport is highly popular in Germany, with the number of journeys increasing regularly over the past 20 years to reach 10.3 billion in 2017.
In comparison with other major European nations, tickets can be cheap: a single ticket in Berlin costs €2.90, while the equivalent on the London Underground costs £4.90 (€5.50 or $6.80).
But cities were quick to warn that more planning was needed if free travel was to succeed.
“I don’t know any manufacturer who would be able to deliver the number of electric buses we would need” to meet increased demand if transport was free, Bonn mayor Ashok Sridharan told news agency DPA.
Meanwhile, the Association of German Cities chief, Helmut Dedy, warned that “we expect a clear statement about how [free transport] will be financed” from the federal government.
Other attempts around the world to offer citizens free travel have failed, including in the US city of Seattle.
Ministers “should think again during a ride on the U6 [underground line] in Berlin at 7.30 am,” Die Welt newspaper commented.
“The conclusion would be clear: more carriages, more personnel, and maybe even more tracks and lines would be needed. Where would the billions for that come from?”