Wednesday, December 2, 2009

EU - Let us shift from expensive cars to free public bus or train

The advantages of free public transit are enormous and extremely beneficial for all citizens of the European Union:
  • Drastic decrease in emission of exhaust gases
  • Less noise
  • Less traffic jams
  • Better traffic safety
  • Enormous savings in energy and raw materials
  • Creation of new jobs
  • Ascent of efficient economical development
  • Considerably lower public and personal expenses
  • Empowering of social justice
  • Higher cultural dialogue
  • Creation of friendlier urban environment
Read more at Ecohumanworld


  1. Hi there,
    I see this post opens with 'the advantages of free public transit', but in my opinion the items in list above are simply the advantages of increased public transport usage (free or otherwise). Perhaps you could find some reasearch on the benefits of fare free public transport in relation to improving paid public transport. I suppose the assumption is that going fare free would attract more passengers, but is there actually any evidence to suggest that would be the case?
    It is my view that the cost of public transport is not one of the main barriers to use, so removing the cost will do little as long as the other barriers are still in existence.

  2. Plenty of evidence. Here is a start.
    Try to think not just about how you, personally, would react, but rather what are the actual macroeconomics of public transit vs auto-system subsidies.

  3. Hi Nick,
    - Is there any evidence fare free would attract more passengers?
    The best example is Hasselt, provincial capital of Limburg in Belgium. About 12 years ago their visionary Mayor introduced free buses and bicycles and car-free malls and totally transformed this little city (pop 72,000) from a severely clogged/polluted daily nightmare, into an extremely pleasant city. Public transport patronage grew by 800%. There is NO congestion - pollution, crashes, parking problems, road injuries/deaths, road rage, fuel costs etc etc have all been dramatically reduced. No ticketting system costs. No arguments or assaults on bus drivers (no fares to dispute or cashboxes to steal). So the drivers can fully concentrate on their job: safe driving.
    And local taxes/rates (which largely share the costs of this public service) have fallen, not increased as a result.

    It took a lot of planning and new innovative thinking & risk taking.
    And yes, you are correct: it will require much more than just eliminating fares - the Hasselt services (modern buses, good shelters, new interlinking routes etc) had to be drastically upgraded too. They have a big team of 'ambassadors' who assist passengers. Service centres offer free repairs to bicycles. Even the pedestrian crossings are often inlaid with colourful art work. Everything is people, not car, focussed.
    Now the services are so frequent and easy and passenger-friendly & well patronised, they don't need to rely on timetables - as one bus departs, another arrives.
    People tend to use their cars only for special trips.
    The only negative report is that as people rely on efficient free buses to get about, many of the children are putting on too much weight - so the council is promoting fitness programmes in the schools and cycling etc.

    My wife & visited Hasselt last Xmas & were very impressed. I will post a video about Hasselt's free buses on the farefreenz blog soon.

    It can be done - it would just take the will to do it.



  4. While I am very in favour of increased public transport in Australia and New Zealand cities, I'm of two minds whether making it free is an appropriate step.

    So far the saving of the ticketing system costs and not requiring the driver to spend time or attention on collecting fares is the only direct benefit I can see. This might be substantial enough on its own, indeed in Auckland huge amounts of time are wasted by bus drivers collecting cash fares at each stop, although a modern ticketing system might minimise that.

    The rest would be flow on effects of improving the service in general. The question is how much of this is attributable to the fare removal, and how much to the simultaneous improvements?

    As you point out in Hasselt and other locations there was a lot of planning, a lot of involvement from the government, new routes, new buses, interlinked routes, things being people not car focussed etc. My question is if we were to implement the same package of improvements would we not see similar gains? And if the gains were not quite as high, would the fare revenue still collected make it more efficient overall, or at least less of a burden upon the council.
    Say we implemented free fares and a package of improvements in Auckland that gave us eight times the patronage at the cost of $250 million a year in lost revenue. It might be the case that we could implement the same package with fares and get seven times the patronage, without the loss of $250 million. That money could then be used to pay for new services. Which is the better outcome? Effectively spending $250 million of civic funds to attract 1/7th more people?

    I suppose it is very hard but is there some way to separate the improvement margin that resulted from the fare removal, from the improvement that came from vastly improved infrstructure, services, route planning, community focus etc.

    One other thing to consider is do we really want to increase travel so much, and what is the value of these trips. I say this because I believe the old ideas that the more travel and mobility going on the better are wrong. This is usually said in regard to private vehicle travel, but in the modern peak-oil carbon crisis world the first goal should be to minimise travel, then think about moving people efficiently. Is removing those barriers to travel completely a good idea, or does it make sense to have some level of 'cost' (financial or otherwise) on travel to prevent people from making a dozen trivial trips each day for any little reason instead of taking care of everything in one or two. That is one caveat of using patronage as an indicator of the successs of a scheme, not all trips are created equal!

    Such an interesting aspect of public transport. I'm tempted to jump on board behind the fare-free concept but I need a little more critical analysis yet to convince myself.