Why isn’t transit free? After all, roads are completely free for everyone to use, yet most paved surface space is dedicated to private car usage. Since cars take up more space and are far more polluting than public transit, doesn’t it make sense to charge drivers more and transit users less?
A city in Europe has proved that not only can free public transit work, it can do great things for a city and even reduce traffic and congestion.
There are several benefits to providing free public transit. In 1997 the town of Hasselt, Belgium eliminated all fares to its bus system, immediately increasing passenger growth by 428% and, by 2006, an astounding 1300%. What else happened?
- Hasselt saved an enormous amount of money by not having to build extra roads and parking spaces
- the safety of transit operators improved since they no longer had to deal with irate passengers over fare payments
- increased accessibility attracted the development of more businesses, resulting in the city lowering its taxes!
- Hasselt now experiences nearly zero traffic congestion
Rethinking the Issue
In Toronto, $980 million of the transit system’s $1.4 billion budget comes from the farebox. That means that even though their taxes have already paid for it, Toronto transit riders still have to pay 70% of the total cost of running Canada’s largest transit system.
Imagine the uproar if drivers had to pay 70% of road maintenance costs each day before they left their driveway?
It’s a difficult conversation to have. But experience shows that making transit better and more affordable is the only way to reduce congestion.