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PUBLICATIONS, Structural and Cohesion Policies

Free public transport in Europe

Tallinn in Estonia will be the very first European capital to install free public transport on its territory (as from 2013). Several mid-size European cities and many smaller towns around the world have converted their entire bus networks to zero-fare. The city of Hasselt in Belgium is a notable example.

Benefits

Road traffic can benefit from decreased congestion and faster average road speeds, fewer traffic accidents, easier parking, savings from reduced wear and tear on roads. Environmental and public health benefits including decreased air pollution and noise pollution from road traffic. If use of personal cars is discouraged, free public transport could mitigate the problems of global warming and oil depletion.

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: aggression is often felt to be related to refusal to pay the fare.

Zero-fare transport can make the system more accessible and fair for low-income residents. Free public transport could guarantee every single person’s right to mobility. That means not only the schoolchildren and the workers, but also the old people, the people visiting relatives in hospital, the unemployed.

Local services

Local zero-fare shuttles or inner-city loops are far more common than city-wide 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.

Our future

We are standing at a crossroad: in order to reduce our oil dependency and to make our cities climate smart, we have to change our ways of getting around. It is a fact that the future is on track, and with free public transport everyone can come along for the ride. More people off the road, more people on the move!

Further reading

List of European cities offering some form of free public transport

Global forum for free public transport

Portal on free public transport in Europe

Free public transport tin Scotland campaign

Le ragioni per un Trasporto Pubblico Urbano Gratuito di Matteo Richiardi

Backgrounders:

Fair and efficient pricing in transport – the role of charges and taxes: An EU-Wide Review of Transport Charges and Taxes (National) in Commuter and Business Travel EC study, 2000)

How persuasive is “free” public transport? : a survey among commuters in the Brussels Capital Region (Article by Witte, Astrid De. 2008. Published in Transport policy Vol. 15, no. 4 (2008), p. 216-224.  

Subsidies in public transport (research article by Delft University, 2006)

About Geert Plas

Polyvalent information specialist at the European Parliament Library

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