Free public transport

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In 2020, Luxembourg became the first country to provide free public transport across its entire territory.[1]

Free public transport, often called fare-free public transit or zero-fare public transport, refers to public transport funded in full by means other than by collecting fares from passengers. It may be funded by national, regional or local government through taxation, or by commercial sponsorship by businesses. Alternatively, the concept of "free-ness" may take other forms, such as no-fare access via a card which may or may not be paid for in its entirety by the user.

On 29 February 2020, Luxembourg became the first country in the world to make all public transport in the country (buses, trams, and trains) free to use.[2][3][4][5] On 1 October 2022, Malta will become the second country in the world to make its public transport system free for all residents.[6] Germany is considering making their public transit system fare-free in response to the EU's threatening to fine them for their air pollution levels.[7]

As some transit lines intended to operate with fares initially start service, they may elect to not collect fares for an introductory period to create interest or test operations.

Types[edit]

City-wide systems[edit]

Tallinn, capital city of Estonia with more than 420,000 inhabitants, as well as several mid-size European cities and many smaller towns around the world have converted their public transportation networks to zero-fare. The city of Hasselt in Belgium is a notable example: fares were abolished in 1997 and ridership was as much as "13 times higher" by 2006.[8]

See list below.

Local services[edit]

Local zero-fare shuttles or inner-city loops are far more common than citywide systems. They often use buses or trams. These may be set up by a city government to ease bottlenecks or fill short gaps in the transport network.

See List of free public transport routes for a list of zero-fare routes within wider (fare-paying) networks

Zero-fare transport is often operated as part of the services offered within a public facility, such as a hospital or university campus shuttle or an airport inter-terminal shuttle.

Some zero-fare services may be built to avoid the need for large transport construction. Port cities where shipping would require very high bridges might provide zero-fare ferries instead. These are free at the point of use, just as the use of a bridge might have been. Machinery installed within a building or shopping centre can be seen as 'zero-fare transport': elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks are often provided by property owners and funded through the sales of goods and services. Community bicycle programs, providing free bicycles for short-term public use could be thought of as zero-fare transport.

A common example of zero-fare transport is student transport, where students travelling to or from school do not need to pay. A notable example is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which provides much of the funding to operate the Stevens Point Transit system. All students at the university can use any of the four citywide campus routes and the other four bus routes throughout the city free of charge. The university also funds two late night bus routes to serve the downtown free of charge with a goal of cutting down drunk driving.

In some regions transport is free because the revenues are lower that expenses from fare collection is already partially paid by government or company or service (for example BMO railway road in Moscow, most part of is used to as service transport and officially pick up passengers).[clarification needed]

Many large amusement parks will have trams servicing large parking lots or distant areas. Disneyland in Anaheim, California, runs a tram from its entrance, across the parking lot, and across the street to its hotel as well as the bus stop for Orange County and Los Angeles local transit buses. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, provides tram service throughout its parking lot.

In July 2017, Dubai announced it would offer free bus services for a short period of time on selected days.[9]

Emergency relief[edit]

During natural disasters, pandemics, and other area-wide emergencies, some transit agencies offer zero-fare transport.

Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit commuter rail temporarily offered free service for those needing transportation alternatives during the 2017 Tubbs Fire and 2019 Kincade Fire.[10][11]

Some agencies, including the Central Ohio Transit Authority and King County Metro, offer free public transport during snow emergencies to reduce the number of vehicles on the street.[12][13]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, several agencies paused the collection of fares to alleviate concerns that the virus could be transmitted on surfaces, to keep travelers from coming into close contact with employees, or to allow rear door boarding on their vehicles. These agencies are mostly located in smaller cities where the farebox recovery ratio is low as they could afford to implement this policy without a major hit to revenue.[14]

Benefits[edit]

Operational benefits[edit]

Transport operators can benefit from faster boarding and shorter dwell times, allowing faster timetabling of services. Although some of these benefits can be achieved in other ways, such as off-vehicle ticket sales and modern types of electronic fare collection, zero-fare transport avoids equipment and personnel costs.

Passenger aggression may be reduced. In 2008 bus drivers of Société des Transports Automobiles (STA) in Essonne held strikes demanding zero-fare transport for this reason. They claim that 90% of the aggression is related to refusal to pay the fare.[15]

Commercial benefits[edit]

Some zero-fare transport services are funded by private businesses, such as the merchants in a shopping mall, in the hope that doing so will increase sales or other revenue from increased foot traffic or ease of travel. Employers often operate free shuttles as a benefit to their employees, or as part of a congestion mitigation agreement with a local government.

Community benefits[edit]

Zero-fare transport can make the system more accessible and fair for low-income residents. Other benefits are the same as those attributed to public transport generally:

Global benefits[edit]

Global benefits of zero-fare transport are also the same as those attributed to public transport generally. If use of personal cars is discouraged, zero-fare public transport could mitigate the problems of global warming and oil depletion.

Drawbacks[edit]

Several large U.S. municipalities have attempted zero-fare systems, but many of these implementations have been judged unsuccessful by policy makers. A 2002 National Center for Transportation Research report suggests that, while transit ridership does tend to increase, there are also some disadvantages:[16]

  • An increase in vandalism, resulting in increased costs for security and vehicle-maintenance
  • In large transit systems, significant revenue shortfalls unless additional funding was provided
  • An increase in driver complaints and staff turnover, although farebox-related arguments were eliminated
  • Slower service overall (not collecting fares has the effect of speeding boarding, but increased crowding tends to swamp out this effect unless additional vehicles are added)
  • Declines in schedule adherence

This U.S. report suggests that, while ridership does increase overall, the goal of enticing drivers to take transit instead of driving is not necessarily met: because fare-free systems tend to attract a certain number of "problem riders", zero-fare systems may have the unintended effect of convincing some 'premium' riders to go back to driving their cars. It should be kept in mind that this was a study that only looked at U.S. cities, and the author's conclusions may be less applicable in other countries that have better social safety nets and less crime than the large U.S. cities studied.[16]

Countries with area-wide zero-fare transport[edit]

Luxembourg was the first country to offer free public transport (trams, trains, and buses). Since 1 March 2020, all second-class public transport has been free in the Duchy.[17][18]

Estonia has the ambition to become entirely zero-fare. Counties are allowed to make public transport free. As of May 2019, buses are free of charge in 11 of Estonia's 15 counties. Public transport in Estonia's capital, Tallinn, is free to local residents since 2013.[19][20]

List of towns and cities with area-wide zero-fare transport[edit]

Europe[edit]

Asia[edit]

Americas[edit]

Brazil Brazil[edit]

Canada Canada[edit]

United States United States[edit]

Perception and analysis[edit]

Fare free transit has repeatedly demonstrated to increase ridership — especially during non-peak travel periods — and customer satisfaction.[76] Several analyses[77][78][79] have shown increased ridership by as much as 15% overall and about 45% during the off-peak periods. The effects on public transport operators included schedule adherence problems because of the increased ridership and more complaints about rowdiness from younger passengers, though obviously there were no more direct conflicts with passengers regarding fare collection.[77] When the University of California, Los Angeles covered fare for the university community, ridership increased by 56% in the first year and solo driving fell by 20%[79] (though one older study showed no measurable impact on automobile use[78]).

In the United States, mass transit systems that collect fares are only expected to generate about 10% of the annual revenue themselves, with the remainder covered by either public or private investment and advertisements.[70] Therefore, politicians and social-justice advocacy groups, such as the Swedish network Planka.nu, see zero-fare public transport as a low-cost, high-impact approach to reducing economic inequality.[80] It has also been argued that transportation to and from work is essential to the employer in the managing of work hours, so financing of public transportation should fall to employers rather than private individuals or public funds.[81]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]