Friday, February 5, 2010

"Standing at a crossroad"

Travel doesn’t have to cost the Earth

“If you were to design the ultimate system, you would have mass transit be free and charge an enormous amount for cars.” Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York.
We are standing at a crossroad: in order to reduce our oil dependency and make our cities climate smart, we have to change our ways of traveling. It is a fact that the future is on a track, and with free public transport everyone can come along for the ride.
Free public transport is a way to reward groups of people who travel in an environmental-friendly way and an economic incentive to choose a mean of transport that, from a social and environmental perspective, is obviously better than driving. The introduction of free public transport would mean more money for practically all commuters, and letting the car drivers chip in and pay for public transport would give them a good incentive to leave their cars at home. It is also a matter of gender equality: today men are over-represented among car drivers and investments in public transport are investments in women’s mobility.
The decline in car-traffic and surge in the demand for public transportation that free public transport would render, would in turn stimulate a much needed capacity and comfort increase in the public transport system. This, combined with the fact that ticket collectors, controllers and guards could be retrained to be bus drivers, train drivers, station hosts and traffic hosts would make the public transport much more attractive than it is today. Also, free public transport would increase the purchasing power of everyone using it, which would support regional economies.
But free public transport shouldn’t be seen as a stand-alone reform, but rather as one part of a bigger package of reforms to make our cities more green, liveable and fair. Free public transport should be combined with infrastructural changes to promote walking and biking, at least for shorter distances, as well as congestion fees and other measures to discourage car driving.
It is great to promote walking and biking as alternatives to driving, and of course these two means of transportation are the most ecological and healthy. But we must acknowledge that not everyone has the luxury of being able to bike or walk to work, school or their leisure activities. Kids, people with disabilities and elderly, people living in suburbs far away from their work and people living in cities where the weather just isn’t suitable for being outside most of the year – for all of them biking or walking is hardly ever an option and this is something that needs to be addressed.
We also have to consider the fact that being able to walk or bike to work is, just like driving, often a question of class. It is seldom working class people who are living in, or close to, the city centre or their work. Free public transport is certainly a reform to promote green alternatives to car-traffic and encourage a modal shift from car to public transport. But one of the most important aspects concerns a better redistribution of wealth in the society. Even though almost everyone would, in one way or another, benefit from free public transport, the biggest winners are people with low incomes living in suburbs far away from the city centre.
“A win-win solution, if I ever saw one” Irwin Kellner, chief economist for MarketWatch (a part of the Wall Street Journal).
In September 2009 released their urban transport planning manifesto Travel doesn’t have to cost the Earth, where they propose five concrete measures to make the transport sector in Stockholm, Sweden, climate-smart and socially fair.
Success stories
In 1996, the Belgian city Hasselt introduced free public transport under the motto “The city guarantees the right of mobility for everyone”. At the same time the mayor proposed to give absolute primacy on the city’s Green Boulevard to public transport. Since then, bus ridership has increased by over 1,300%.
Ockelbo in Sweden coordinated all their public and semi-public transport such as regular buses, school buses and mobility service into one system and made it free. Since then the ridership has increased by more than 260% and almost half of those were former car drivers. The municipality even saved money from the reform due to a decrease in administrative costs.
Alexander Berthelsen

Editorial - "Carbusters": journal of the carfree movement

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