Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What Really Happens When a City Makes Its Transit System Free?

What Really Happens When a City Makes Its Transit System Free?
Zach Sanders/Flickr

When Jean-Francois Mayet became mayor of Châteauroux in 2001, the town’s transit system was descending into irrelevance. Each of Châteauroux’s 49,000 inhabitants took the bus, on average, 21 times per year, well below the 38 per annum average for small French cities.
Mayet, a member of France’s socialist party, did what few mayors confronted with a struggling mass transit system would do: he made the whole thing free.
Ever since, the otherwise ordinary French town has become a canary in the coal mine of transportation policy, closely watched by the dozens of other municipalities in various stages of free transit experiments. According to a report [PDF, French] released this year, per person ridership in Châteauroux has jumped from 21 trips a year to 61. Total ridership is up 208 percent in 11 years.
The dozen or so bus lines of Châteauroux, which is about halfway between Paris and Bordeaux, became free in 2001, after Mayet was elected. It wasn’t the first French city to offer free transit, but it was the biggest and the only larger city to demonetize its entire network. Only the Belgian city of Hasselt, which dropped fares system-wide in 1997, was even close to the same league.
Courtesy CAC.
But Châteauroux didn’t just test the viability of eliminating fares as a social experiment; it used free rides to save its mass transit system. In 2002, ridership had already increased 81 percent.
There were growing pains: the number of slashed or tagged seats grew from a dozen in 2001 to 118 in 2002. Drivers complained that passengers treated the bus like a personal car, expecting to be dropped off at their doorsteps.
Stories of Urban Reinvention See full coverage
But overall, the project has been considered a success. In 2008, the conservative newspaper Le Figaro reported that Mayet was the most popular mayor in France among towns with between 30 and 50,000 inhabitants. He’s still in the job, as well as being a regional representative to the French Senate.
The motivations for making a transit system free are obvious. Increased ridership can relieve traffic, improve the environment, boost the system’s efficiency, give residents more spending money, help the poor, and rejuvenate central business districts.  Unfortunately, the Châteauroux report contains little large-scale analysis of the effects of the system.
But as it turns out, the change nearly paid for itself. Forty-seven percent of bus-goers were already riding for free, and tickets covered only 14 percent of the city’s transit expenses. By slightly increasing the transit tax on big local businesses while eliminating the costs of printing, ticket-punching technology and the human infrastructure of ticket sales, the city turned a profit on the transit system in ’03, ’04, ’05, and ’07. Since ’08, returns have not been as positive, though the report attributes that to a shift in control from the city to the region.
Not everyone is jumping on board. Bruno Cordier, author of a 2007 report Totally Free Mass Transit [PDF, French] cautions that fare-cutting won’t work at all for many cities.
"Gratuity alone does not make the network attractive," Cordier told Le Monde. He points out that Châteauroux also expanded their network by 42 kilometers at the same time, which could have played as much of a role as free rides. Plus, he says, the system won’t work at all in big cities, where 30-40 percent of transit revenue comes from ticket sales, as opposed to a mere 14 percent in Châteauroux.
And while it might revitalize a struggling small-town transit network, big cities don’t need to incentivize mass transit the same way, where a larger proportion of residents have no other options. To help lower-income residents, Cordier favors a "social tariff" system, developed in Dunkerque in the 1990s, in which discounts on transport passes basically correspond to a passenger’s tax bracket. In Grenoble, for example, the poorest residents can get 95 percent off a transport pass, while the rich pay full price. This allows cities to keep investing in improving the system.
One of Châteauroux’s imitators also released a report this year: Aubagne, a metro area of 100,000 spread around 12 towns to the west of Marseille. This being France, the city’s mayor teamed up with a philosopher to write a book on the experiment, entitled, in part, Liberté, égalité, gratuité.
Aubagne has had a free transit system since 2009, when the city raised the transport tax on large businesses from .6 to 1.8 percent. In terms of persons served, it is one of the largest free-transit projects in the world. Since transit fares were abolished in 2009, ridership has increased 170 percent – a gain in three years that is already approaching the eleven-year mark from Châteauroux. The authors told TerraEco that 99 percent of residents are happy with the new policy. Traffic congestion is down 10 percent [PDF, French].
The concept is about to meet its biggest test. At the end of this year, Tallinn, Estonia (pop. 406,000) will eliminate fares on its transit system for residents, making it the world’s biggest city with free mass transit.
Top image: Flickr user Zach Flanders. Inset: Flickr user Jyle Dupuis.
Henry Grabar is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

The Atlantic Cities. 26 Oct 2012


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tallinn Becomes Hub for Public Transport Debate

By Steve Roman
Published: 26.10.2012 17:32
Seats at the conference in the Solaris Center were remarkably more comfortable than those on the No. 5 to Lasnamäe.
( Photo: ERR News )
The capital's plan to introduce free public transport for residents came under the microscope on Friday as dozens of city officials, academics and journalists from around Europe gathered in Tallinn to discuss the ins and outs of such schemes.
The city-sponsored conference, "Free Public Transport - a Brave Step Toward the Green Capital," was a chance for Tallinn officials to present the motives and philosophies behind their move as well as a platform for municipalities that already have free public transport to talk about their experiences.

Benefits discussed ranged from the obvious, such as reduced traffic congestion and carbon emissions, to the not so obvious, including the economic benefits of having a more mobile, money spending public.

The larger focus of discussion, however, was the practicalities of  making such a system work, not least of which is how to maintain service quality when the number of users surges.

The small Belgian city of Hasselt, the birthplace of free public transport, saw its rider numbers shoot from 1,000 to 8,000 when it made the switch in 1997. City affairs manager Marc Verachtert, who took part in the conference, said that local planners had upped the number of bus lines from 4 to 11 in anticipation of the increase.

Tallinn, where the increase is expected to be much lower, has a quality improvement plan of its own in the works. It includes, according to Deputy Mayor Taavi Aas, bringing on an additional 70 buses, introducing a "park and ride" system for long-range commuters and creating a new passenger information system.

According to Verachtert, just as large a concern as maintaining service quality was how the public would relate to the free service. Experts had warned Hasselt officials of vandalism and buses crowded with bored youngsters, discouraging the intended target travelers from using the system.

"Never believe experts," he told ERR News. "We expected that sometimes a seat would be damaged by a knife, but that happened very few times because the buses are a lot more crowded by people. There are people on the bus who feel a kind of ownership of the bus and they take care, they keep an eye on what other people are doing."

Magali Giovannangeli, head of the urban district of Aubagne near Marseille, went further, saying that after her district made the change during the recent economic crisis, the relationship between passengers and drivers became much more respectful as it was no longer a payer-payee dynamic.

Other problems raised at the conference remained unresolved, such as the phenomenon of people switching from walking or biking to using public transport, as opposed to switching from using their cars.

And there was the uncomfortable example given by a German expert of two cities near Berlin where free public transport proved too popular, was economically unsustainable and had to be abandoned.

Every case was different, as the presenters made clear.

Though Tallinn is not making free public transport universal when it implements the change on January 1 (only registered city residents are eligible) it is nevertheless one of the largest cities and the first European capital to have such a policy. Academics and city planners from around Europe and beyond will be watching closely.

Estonian Public Broadcasting/News  26/102012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Proposed fare zones "like Alabama in 1955"

MP cries foul over 'unfair' travel zones

By Mathew Dearnaley
NZ Herald. 15 Oct 2012

It's like Alabama in 1955, says MP Phil Twyford

 Photo / Natalie Slade

Photo / Natalie Slade 
Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford is crying foul over proposed public transport zones making it cheaper to travel to downtown Auckland from the North Shore than from other areas an equal distance away.
He claims the scheme discriminates against residents of lower-income western and southern suburbs, making it reminiscent of racially segregated "Alabama, 1955".

A draft published by Auckland Transport for public discussion shows eight travel zones proposed for introduction between the middle of next year and the end of 2014.

Unless the plan is radically overhauled after submissions on the regional public transport plan close on November 5, passengers will be able to travel to central Auckland from as far north as Long Bay for a two-zone fare, at a price yet to be determined.

But it will cost a three-zone fare to travel from anywhere west of New Lynn or south of Onehunga or Otahuhu, despite New Lynn and Onehunga being 10km from the city centre, compared with 20km from Long Bay to downtown.

Mr Twyford, Labour's transport spokesman, said that was blatantly unfair on low-income working families in his area and South Auckland who relied on public transport.
"It looks like the public transport map for Alabama, 1955.

"The parts of West Auckland I represent are probably the worst served by public transport of any area in Auckland City. I don't believe they should be disadvantaged in this way."

Mr Twyford said he was extremely encouraged by other aspects of the draft plan, which includes 15-minute or better bus services on many more routes than now, including along the Northwestern Motorway and up and down the Te Atatu peninsula.

Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said the map was from a plan published four years ago, and the organisation looked forward to submissions from Mr Twyford and anyone else.

Free bus service in Chengdu triggers heated discussion in Xiamen

Updated: 16 Oct 2012
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A sign saying "free of charge" is seen on a bus in Chengdu on Oct. 10, 2012. A total of 44 lines of buses in Chengdu will be free of charge from Oct. 10, 2012 to June 30, 2013.

A free bus fare policy has been implemented in Chengdu, capital city of Southwestern China’s Sichuan Province, on the 10th October, which has triggered a heated discussion in Xiamen. Many citizens have discussed whether Xiamen should have such a policy, reported Strait Herald.
Some citizens tweeted on Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging platform in China, advising the authorities to adopt a similar policy to further encourage the use of public transport in Xiamen, while most citizens said they are against the plan, citing the ‘chaotic’ public transport system in Chengdu after the policy was implemented there. They also pointed out that the policy was introduced concurrently with a strict restriction on private cars to alleviate traffic jams.
Xinhua news agency reported that the policy drew larger-than-ever crowds to bus and metro stations, and many Chengdu citizens complained they could not catch a bus.
“Bus fares are already very cheap in Xiamen, and a free bus fare policy won’t increase its competitiveness against private cars,” said a private car owner in Xiamen. “Many private car owners will still choose to drive their cars because it’s more convenient and they can get direct access to their destination.”
Zhu Jianghuai, a member of the Standing Committee of the Municipal People's Congress, believed that a free bus transfer policy will be more beneficial than a free bus fare policy.
“We can improve our public transport system by adding bus shuttles, opening more bus routes, and setting up more bus stops especially in the mainland districts,” Zhu said.
Relevant departments have said they will keep an eye on the results of the free bus fare policy in Chengdu and continue to improve the public transport services in Xiamen.
Xiamen News. 16 Oct 2012 
SOURCE: WOXnews.com

Monday, October 15, 2012

Save bus campaign groups in India demand free bus travel

Pune is one of India's largest cities with over 5.5million people. Inspired by news of free buses in China (see our earlier reports) combined commuter groups are protesting announced fare hikes & demanding government action.

PUNE: The 'PMP Bus Seva Bachao Abhiyan' - an initiative taken by city based bus commuters groups to save the city bus transport, has cited the example of how China has taken steps to encourage people to choose public transportation.

 The commuters groups have circulated emails to the officials of Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad municipal corporations saying that only increasing the bus fleet is not enough and that bus transport should be economical, efficient, safe and affordable for common people. The commuter groups have attached media reports with their emails describing how China has made bus travel free to encourage public transport. The report says the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, has waived bus fares and offered discounts on metro fares. A spokesman with the Chengdu Municipal Public Transport Group Corp, has said that the free bus fare policy will remain in effect until June 30 next year.

Around 15 bus commuters groups who are participating in the PMP Bus Seva Bachao Abhiyan had recently held protests at several places in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad after the city bus transport company - PMPML - announced its decision to increase bus fares. The bus commuters groups have also asked the state government to intervene and impose a stay on the increase in bus fares.


Friday, October 12, 2012

China is switching to public transport

Free bus rides offered to ease road congestion

China Daily. 11 Oct 2012

Authorities are offering free bus rides in downtown areas of Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province, in a bid to encourage the use of public transport and ease the city's traffic gridlock.

Free bus rides offered to ease road congestion
A man gets on a fare-free bus in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province, Oct 10, 2012. [Photo/Xinhua]

From Wednesday, 33 bus routes operating on, and in-between, Chengdu's Second and Third Ring roads will be free of charge.
Another 11 free bus routes will start operation by the end of this month.
The move comes as local authorities introduced traffic restrictions in the same area the free buses will operate.
As of Monday, the last two numbers on a car's license plate will determine when it is permitted to drive in the downtown areas of Chengdu. Monday's numbers are 1 and 6, Tuesday is 2 and 7, Wednesday 3 and 8, Thursday 4 and 9, and Friday 5 and 0.
The traffic control measures will be in force between 7:30 am and 8 pm. There are no restrictions on weekends.
The free bus rides and traffic restrictions will be in force until June 30 next year.
Chengdu joins Beijing and a number of provincial capital cities in China by introducing strict traffic control measures.

Growing congestion
Local transport authorities said traffic control is easing road congestion in urban areas and reducing traffic pollution.
Chengdu has more than 2.1 million vehicles. Since 2006, the number of vehicles has increased at an annual rate of 20 percent, Chengdu Daily reported.
The construction of new subway lines, road expansion and the building of new road exchanges have further aggravated congestion.
"It looks like there are construction sites everywhere in Chengdu now," said Li Xiao-yong, a local taxi driver. "More often than not, I advise my passengers to get out of my car and take a motorbike taxi if they are in a hurry," he said.
The congestion has also cut his daily turnover from more than 600 yuan ($90) to 450 yuan.
The average road speed during rush hour in the city was only 13 km per hour as of August, Chengdu Daily reported.
Traffic has also been a major source of pollution in the city.
Tu Zhi, deputy director of the transport committee of Chengdu, told a news conference on Sept 12 that Chengdu will have another 2,000 buses on its streets by the end of this year and the city's seniors will be permitted to take a total of 900 free bus rides every year from October.
Along with the free bus rides, the local subway company will offer residents a 20 percent discount when they use subway payment cards.
Wang Yu, a manager of bus routes from Chengdu Public Transport Group Co, said the free bus service is aimed at encouraging more residents to refrain from using private vehicles and switch to using public transport.
Luo Chuyi, 63, was among the first group of local residents to ride on the free buses on Wednesday.
Luo's son runs a flower plantation in the western part of Chengdu, so she decided to help deliver the flowers from her son's plantation to suburban areas using the bus.
"Delivering the flowers by taking public transport is good exercise for me," she said.
Gao Bo, a bus driver whose bus route is in the city's First Ring road area, hopes the free bus rides will be extended to other areas of the city to ease congestion.

Contact the writers at xuwei@chinadaily.com.cn and huangzhiling@chinadaily.com.cn

Thursday, October 11, 2012

China makes bus travel free to encourage public transport


In a bid to encourage people to choose public transportation, the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, waived bus fares and offered discounts on metro fares from today.
According to a spokesman with the Chengdu Municipal Public Transport Group Corp, the free bus fare policy will remain in effect until June 30 next year.
Today, 33 bus routes went fare-free, and the number will increase to 44 by the end of the month.
The mega-city on Monday introduced a regulation ordering some vehicles off the streets on certain days depending on the license plate numbers, a system that has also been carried out in Beijing and some other Chinese cities to help ease traffic congestion.
However, the vehicle restriction and bus fare exemption policy brought new troubles this morning, drawing larger-than-ever crowds to bus and metro stations, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Many netizens vented on Sina Weibo, China's popular microblogging service, complaining that they could not catch a bus in the morning.
"Today, I was lost in Chengdu's chaotic public transport system," wrote netizen 'Hejin firefly'.
The company will continue to improve public transport services by adding bus shuttles and opening more bus routes, among other measures, to cope with increasing demand for public transport, the spokesman for the public transport company said.
Despite the complaints, citizens in other Chinese cities such as Nanjing, Ningbo and Shenzhen called for other cities to usher in such incentives.
Like all big cities in China, Chengdu sees heavy traffic jams, especially during weekday rush hours, with drivers complaining about slow movement of vehicles during peak traffic times in the city's downtown.
The three cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have restricted the purchase of new cars to ease traffic on the roads.

Indian Express. 10 Oct 2012. Beijing