Thursday, June 27, 2013

Experimenting with free public transport in Finland deemed worthwhile by the Minister of Transport

Free public transport could be experimented with in larger cities of Finland, said the Finnish Minister of Transport Merja Kyllönen in an interview to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.

"Absolutely," replied Kyllönen, a member of the Left Alliance, to the question of whether public transport should be for free.

"At least it would be sensible, if it were for free for youngsters, for under 18-year-olds," said Kyllönen. "If we are going to raise a generation of public transport users, it cannot be achieved only by wishing. We should have the courage to experiment it in bigger cities in order to see, what kind of expenses it would entail."

The city government of Tallinn (capital of Estonia) implemented the free public transport for residents from the beginning of this year.

See also: video of Tallinn TV

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

From zero fares to social transformation

Brazil's reluctant revolutionaries in spotlight

  • Free Fare Movement  member Caio Martins, right, participates in a protest at Capao Redondo neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, June 25, 2013. The “horizontally” organized wing of mostly young university students have been calling for the elimination of bus and subway fares since 2003. "Look, we're not the owners of these protests across Brazil nor are we the only group behind them," said Martins, a 19-year-old university student who helped orchestrate Tuesday's protest. "That said, we are one of the most organized groups involved in what's going on. I think that's why people have looked to us." Photo: Nelson Antoine
    Free Fare Movement member Caio Martins, right, participates in a protest at Capao Redondo neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, June 25, 2013. The “horizontally” organized wing of mostly young university students have been calling for the elimination of bus and subway fares since 2003. "Look, we're not the owners of these protests across Brazil nor are we the only group behind them," said Martins, a 19-year-old university student who helped orchestrate Tuesday's protest. "That said, we are one of the most organized groups involved in what's going on. I think that's why people have looked to us." Photo: Nelson Antoine

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's reluctant revolutionaries are struggling with success.
The Free Fare Movement, which advocates for the elimination of all transit fees, didn't expect to become the focal point of what some Brazilian media are calling the most important mass demonstrations in the nation's history. Nor did they imagine they'd be tapped as one of the few groups, if not the only one, to decide whether the protests grow or fade away in the coming days and weeks.

But that's the rapid evolution facing this "horizontally" organized wing of mostly young university students, who have been calling for the elimination of bus and subway fares since 2003. They've already won the cancellation of fare hikes that triggered the explosion of mass protests more than a week ago. Now, even after meeting with President Dilma Rousseff on Monday, the movement is sticking to its original platform: the complete zeroing out of transit fares.

More than anyone in this formless protest movement, the group has the power to extend the unrest that has shaken Latin America's biggest country and since wrapped in a litany of grievances, from woeful health services to the sky-high cost of hosting next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
"Look, we're not the owners of these protests across Brazil nor are we the only group behind them," said Caio Martins, a rail-thin 19-year-old university student helping orchestrate a Tuesday protest supported by the Free Fare Movement. "That said, we are one of the most organized groups involved in what's going on. I think that's why people have looked to us."

Outside watchers said now is the time for the group to press its demands, while it has the Brazilian government back on its heels. Doing that, however, will mean becoming an actual movement capable of expanding beyond its single-issue base, said Guillermo Trejo, a professor at the University of Notre Dame in the U.S. whose research focuses on social protests in Latin America.

"This is a crucial week for the movement because they're so strong right now," Trejo said. "The height of the power of the movement is this week. Whereas the leaders of the movement initially represented the transportation issue, they're now in a position to represent a much larger constituency."

Before police cracked down on a June 13 rally, the Free Fare Movement was a relatively obscure group — carrying out protests but not gaining much national traction. Its first transport protests did manage to briefly paralyze the northeastern Brazilian city of Salvador a decade ago, and its cause spread to the city of Florianopolis in the south the following year. In 2005, a national movement was born at the anti-capitalist World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre.

That low profile officially ended when Sao Paulo police fired rubber bullets, canisters of tear gas and stun grenades at the group's protest last week in a congested central area of the country's biggest city. One of Brazil's top newspapers had suggested the police crack down after an earlier Free Fare action destroyed buses, shattered storefront windows and blocked traffic.

More than 100 group members ended up injured in the police sweep, along with several newspaper reporters, two of whom were shot in the face at close range with rubber bullets. National outrage over the violence, fanned by social media, opened a Pandora's box of Brazilian discontent.
With the whole country now up in arms, some question the group's ability to continue winning concessions, like it did this week from several city and state governments that reversed public transport fare hikes.

For one thing, Free Fare's insistence on eschewing any leadership structure while encouraging the direct participation of all members has made it more difficult to put out a unified message. As a result, on Friday, one member had said the group was calling off all future protests, only to be contradicted two days later by another in the group, who insisted the demonstrations would continue.
When asked whether the organization's unconventional structure works, Martins stifled a laugh as he stood at the side of the small march in Sao Paulo.

"We reversed the fare hike! It works, it works," he said. "Well, at times some members have presented themselves to the media as if they were leaders of the movement when they're not. We don't have leaders. That aside, we have few problems."

Mayara Vivian, a member who met with Rousseff, showed no signs of backing down on pressuring the government despite Free Fare's structural challenges.

"It's one thing to talk, but we've got to see concrete action," she said. "Dialogue is an important step, but without action that guarantees improvements for the population, there will be no advances."
Street vendor Edmundo Pereira da Silva watched Tuesday's protest crawl down a main Sao Paulo road while peering from a hole in the wooden door of his tiny, disheveled concrete shack.

Like most people in the metropolitan area of 20 million people, he spends several hours and a large chunk of his disposable income on bus and subway fares. For that reason, he said he backed Free Fare's campaign.

"I hope for a better Brazil, of course. I want a different Brazil, with more quality, more confidence, with honest politicians and people who cast conscientious votes," he said, the stench of sewage strong at his door. "That's their fight — and we've got to at least try."

As a cold rain drenched the few hundred marchers, Martins skirted in and out of the crowd, quietly conferring with other group members at the front of the march before moving back into the mass.
"We've always maintained that we are solely focused on the issue of free transport," he said.
But now, after the mind-blowing protests of the past week, that is already changing, he said.
"Our fight is for the transformation of society."
Associated Press writer Marco Sibaja in Brasilia contributed to this report.

Connecticut Post. 26/06/2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

'Transport should be treated as a social right - we are campaigning for a free pass for all'

Brazil's protest movement to fight on for free public transport

 Brazilian protests continue to grow

 Agence France-Presse report. 24 June 2013

A movement for free public transport that helped sparked Brazil's nationwide street protests said Monday it was open to dialogue with the government but vowed to continue its struggle.

"The struggle does not stop. The struggle for free transport continues," said Free Pass Movement (MPL) representative Mayara Longo Vivian after meeting with President Dilma Rousseff.
Earlier, in an open letter to Rousseff posted on its website, the MPL's Sao Paulo branch said: "Transport should be treated as a social right... We are campaigning for a free pass for all."

While state governors have pledged to give priority to mass transport, MPL alleged "Brazil invests 11 times more in individual transport, through road works and credit policies aimed at encouring car purchases.

"Public money should be invested in public transport. Transport can only be really public if it is accessible to all," the group added.

MPL spearheaded the campaign that led authorities in several Brazilian cities, including Sao Paulo and Rio, to cancel mass transit fare increases.

The protests coincide with the Confederations Cup tournament being held in six Brazilian host cities as a dry run for next year's football World Cup.

Free public transport - is it sustainable?

Tallinn, capital city of Estonia, introduced popular fare free public transport for all residents six months ago, which has already seen a 15% reduction in traffic congestion, and attracts 75% citizen support.
This documentary looks at the sustainability of the new mobility network in Tallinn and other cities that have opted for free transit services.

'Free Fare' group sparked Brazil protests, unsure what's next

Police officers stand in a line across a road facing demonstrators during a protest at the bus station in the centre of Brasilia
Police officers stand in a line across a road facing demonstrators 
during a protest at the bus station in the centre of Brasilia.

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Where is Brazil's nationwide protest movement headed?

Even the people who started it don't know.

The 40 or so leftist activists who form Sao Paulo's Free Fare Movement, which seeks free public transportation for all, have been as surprised as the rest of the world as their cause exploded over the past week to include hundreds of thousands of Brazilians with grievances ranging from corruption to police brutality.

After the huge and still-growing protests convinced city governments to lower the price of public transportation this week, the group's leaders - most of them under 30 and university-educated - acknowledge the movement has taken on a life of its own and is unlikely to fade away.

"It's up to the people now to decide the path the (wider) struggle will take," Nina Cappello, a 23-year-old university student, told Reuters.

The 8-year-old group, which like youth protest movements in Europe and the Arab world has seen its message spread largely by social media, describes itself as a "horizontal organization" with no defined leadership.

Like the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, the group is not targeting any particular political leader, and is not associated with any parties. It holds weekly meetings, and membership is open, although affiliates are required to sign a statement of principles and attend an orientation session.

The group's mission is "a life without turnstiles," supporting the right of citizens to move free of charge on transportation provided by the state, making it a public service in line with education and healthcare. In Sao Paulo, the current fare for public transportation is about $1.50.

In recent years, the group gained notoriety by staging protests aimed at provoking disruptions in major cities. Acts of defiance included closing roads, holding turnstile barriers open for passengers and staging sit-ins in the state assembly.

The group steadily attracted new members and sympathizers, although it was not until last week that the country took notice.

"It was a surprise," said Douglas Belome, a 29-year-old Free Fare activist who works at a bank branch, shaking his head in disbelief. "We've been working for eight years on this. This year, we expected big mobilizations, but not 100,000 people in the street."


Police's violent response to a protest last week over transit fare increases magnified the group's profile.

A protest on June 13, aimed at shutting down one of the main thoroughfares in Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city and financial capital, ended in scenes of widespread police violence.

Images of journalists shot in the face with rubber bullets at point-blank range and bystanders being harassed by roving bands of military police were splashed across both social media and the traditional press.

The confrontation struck a nerve, even among Brazilians who did not necessarily support the group's core message.

Brazil has not had a recent history of political protest and enjoyed a historic economic boom in the past decade.

But it has recently become bogged down in a range of problems from high inflation to overcrowded public transport. Many protesters have said they are marching for the right to express themselves peacefully, a cherished value in a country that experienced 20 years of military repressive dictatorship until 1985.

"People are responding to state violence," said member Mayara Vivian.

As the movement has blossomed, Free Fare has lost much of its leadership role. Many of the protests this week have been organized by other groups, largely via Facebook.

They have also taken on a variety of names beyond the Free Fare banner - including "Change Brazil."


The fallout has shaken Brazilian politicians all the way up to President Dilma Rousseff, who this week praised the protesters' "greatness" for calling attention to issues such as poor public education and healthcare.

Demonstrations proliferated again on Thursday, as 300,000 people took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro and hundreds of thousands more flooded other cities.

Some political analysts believe the movement will disrupt daily life and make Brazilian politics unpredictable for months to come, with possible fallout for Rousseff and other politicians who face re-election next year.

Still, the Free Fare leaders refuse to stray from their core demand of free public transit, which they say they will not abandon just because cities like Rio and Sao Paulo revoked recent fare hikes.

To the puzzlement of some Brazilian journalists and politicians, any member can speak on behalf of the group about any topic at any time. But that does not mean they are fond of talking. Members avoid divulging any personal information out of security concerns and to avoid drawing attention away from the organization's broader message.

"We have constructed a culture of mobilization and direct action among the population," said Vivian, who lost part of a finger in 2006 after a sound bomb thrown by riot police exploded beside her.

"We showed all the pessimists ... and we left behind a tool that the people will be able to use, for a wide range of issues," she said, referring to what they see as the newly proven effectiveness of protests to generate change in Brazil.

At a news conference on Thursday, three clearly exhausted Free Fare activists sat in a room packed with local and international media.

"We haven't even had time to digest all of this," Belome said. "All we know is that we are very happy."

Free Public Transport in Lugoj, Romania

The latest city to vote for fare free public transport (unanimously).

From 'Responding Together', journal funded by the European Commission and the Council of Europe. Published 18/06/2013.

Lugoj became the first city in Romania which adopted a "free of charge" policy to the citizens using public transportation. The measure comes to encourage people to ride in buses, as well as to decrease the number of cars circulating in the city.
Lugoj local councilors have unanimously voted that citizens can commute within the city by public transport for free. The decision will come into force as of July 1st, 2013 and will be valid for 18 months. If the initiative is successful among the residents of Lugoj, it will be further extended.

At present, in Lugoj, the price of a bus ticket costs 60 bani (approx. 13 Euro cents) journey, as public transport expenditures were subsidized in a proportion of 75% by the municipality.
Full subsidy will cost the municipality 45.000 RON (approx 10.000 EUR) per month. Regardless of their social status, age, gender or income, the residents of Lugoj will no longer have to purchase subscriptions, passes or tickets.

The service will be assured by the Meridian 22 SA travel company by three large buses (with 50 seats) and two vans. Also, the city administration has purchased and installed ten stations (with a cost of 40.000 RON), while the number of routes that run will run buses will run on will be further increased. There is still work to be done in illuminating the bus stations and finalize the schedule of bus circulation.

The news about the initiative from Lugoj has reached other local administrations in Romania. The public officials of the city of Baia Mare have already requested a copy of the draft decision for analysis, and possible implementation.

Monday, June 24, 2013

'Maybe buses should be free' - The Economist

AFTER riding a tram in Strasbourg, Matt Yglesias, a blogger with Slatehas decided that proof-of-payment fare-collection systems—in which fares are enforced by inspectors who levy steep fines when they catch you without a proper ticket—are better than pay-per-ride systems for public transport. But there's a more radical proposal that could work even better: making public transport free.

Proof-of-payment systems would undoubtedly be an improvement on the inefficient systems that currently dominate American city bus and subway lines. A few years ago a group of engineers at New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) calculated the amount of time wasted as passengers waited to board and pay fares on a single run of the Bx12 Limited bus route in the Bronx. The answer was 16 minutes and 16 seconds, or over a quarter of the entire run. A proof-of-payment system would save much of that.

Making the buses free could work better

Since that study, MTA has moved to proof-of-payment systems on several lines, including the Bx12 Limited. Waiting times have fallen and average speeds have improved. But making the buses free could work even better.

It's not as crazy as it sounds. Fares bring in a lot of money, but they cost money to collect—6% of the MTA's budget, according to a 2007 report in New York magazine. Fare boxes and turnstiles have to be maintained; buses idle while waiting for passengers to pay up, wasting fuel; and everyone loses time. Proof-of-payment systems don't solve the problem of fare-collection costs as they require inspectors and other staff to handle enforcement, paperwork and payment processing. Making buses and subways free, on the other hand, would increase passenger numbers, opening up space on the streets for essential traffic and saving time by reducing road congestion.

It's worth a second look

In New York, the idea of free buses and subways dates back to at least 1965, when Ted Kheel, a lawyer, first floated the idea—and pushed for a doubling of bridge and tunnel fares to make up for lost revenue. Kheel died in 2010, but the modern version of his plan, which would include a congestion charge for cars and trucks entering the Manhattan business district, lives on. The big push by New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, for congestion-pricing was blocked by the state legislature in April 2008; in 2009 he proposed making cross-town buses free, but that idea has yet to be implemented. It's worth a second look.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fare Free struggle on the streets of Brazil

Sean Purdy, a member of the Party of Socialism and Freedom (PSOL) and activist in the Free Fare movement in São Paulo, reports from Brazil on a police assault.

Taking to the streets in São Paulo to protest public transit fare hikes (Sean Purdy)
SÃO PAULO was a war zone the night of June 13 as riot police viciously attacked a peaceful demonstration of the Free Fare movement, which is protesting hikes in bus and subway fares.
Despite massive police repression and the intransigence of the city and state governments, there are have been four large demonstrations in the last two weeks by the Free Fare movement in São Paulo, South America's largest city.

Polls show that a majority of residents support the demonstrations. Protests have spread to several other Brazilian cities that also face increases in public transit fares, and there have been demonstrations of solidarity organized or planned in several dozen cities in Europe and North America. Messages of solidarity have also been sent from the protestors in Taksim Square in Turkey.
Hundreds of videos and testimonies, from both demonstrators and the mainstream media, show that during the June 13 protest, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets indiscriminately at peaceful demonstrators, journalists and passersby. Dozens of demonstrators were injured, along with at least eight journalists, one of whom was blinded in one eye after being struck by a rubber bullet. Video footage posted on YouTube shows the scope of the violence.

The Free Fare movement, which is made up of high school and university students, trade unionists, and activists from a broad section of social movements--organized its first protest soon after bus and subway fares were increased by 6 percent on June 2.
The municipal government headed by Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) claims that the increases are below the rate of inflation, but many analysts have shown that over the last 20 years, the cost of public transit has increased well above inflation, making São Paulo the most expensive city for public transportation in Latin America.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE PROTESTS come at a time of growing dissatisfaction with the neoliberal politics of the two misnamed main parties in Brazil, the Brazilian Social Democratic Party and the PT. Activists have shown that the politics of these two supposed rivals are exactly the same: making Brazil safe for business while neglecting the massive social disparities and inequality in the country.

Politicians from both parties have condemned the Free Fare movement protests, as has the PT-led federal government. But many grassroots activists from the PT have participated in the demonstrations, along with militants from the Party of Socialism and Freedom.

At the same time as the protests against fare increases erupted, activists across the country have been demonstrating against preparations for next year's World Cup in Brazil. Billions have been spent upgrading stadiums and thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in an effort that has boosted the profits of large companies and produced few benefits for the population.
News of the police assault on peaceful protesters spread around the world, prompting solidarity actions, including a reported 800-strong rally in New York City. In San Diego, dozens of Brazilians and their supporters gathered for a march and rally on June 16. "We are here to show we know what is going on, and that we support the people protesting," said rally organizer Roberta Goulart.
Goulart and others also recognized how the protests against transit fare increases are connected to discontent about other issues, such as the Olympics construction and the government's record of corruption. "We pay a lot of taxes, and it goes into the pockets of politicians, not for education and health care," said Felipe Barbiere.

In Brazil, organizers are expecting tens of thousands, including large contingents of trade unionists and activists from the social movements, to participate in the next demonstration of the Free Fare movement in São Paulo. As the slogan of the movement put it: "If the fares increase, São Paulo will stop." 18/6/13