French city makes its buses free, spurring new ridership and decreasing car use

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This has also been tried by the entire nation of Luxembourg.

In order to do this, you also need to municipalise the bus service in a city, which has some additional benefits:

A publicly owned system can be a proper network, coordinating with and feeding into other forms of public transport, rather than the cherry-picked range of profitable routes that a private company will focus on.

The shift to public transport can also be even greener if there is funding available for low emission buses.


That’s pretty much the rule in most European cities - the public transport is run by either a city-owned company (such as RATP in Paris) or the city is paying a private company to run the buses/trams/whatever for them .

I live in Compiègne (a smallish town about an hour north of Paris, known for Jean of Arc, summer residence of the French kings, both Napoleons and the WWI and WWII armistices) and we also have buses free of charge except on Sundays.

The network isn’t very dense and most lines run only two or three times every hour but it helps - especially for getting kids and students to schools (we have a university here), people shopping or to and from the hospital which is a bit out of the way at the far end of town. And also to and from the railway station, which is a major hub for commuters - mostly people who are working in Paris (a 30min train ride).

So here it doesn’t really replace cars and bikes as means of getting around but it still helps quite a bit.


I applaud the move as a whole (I’d personally benefit), but before I would recommend it as general policy, I would want to compare the benefits free transit brings as compared to the benefits of spending that money elsewhere.

Tax money is scarce, and spending more on the middle-class (as opposed to having social benefits that include a transit pass) might not be the best use of it.

Granted, the entire nation is only about twice the size of New York City so the logistics are a little simpler than they would be for most countries.


Well, the thing is, you have a choice - either you give handouts to the middle class (which arguably doesn’t really need them) or you support the poor, e.g. with a free or subsidized transport pass. Which, in turn helps with things such as avoiding creation of “ghettoes”, better life for the elderly which are often not able to drive anymore (and certainly are counting every euro!) and still need to get around, etc.

So yes, it is a trade-off but I think more and more cities are going to move to this model. Even if the public transport isn’t free, it is almost always subsidized by the city, it is not something that is commercially viable by itself. And you have all the expenses with tickets, vending machines, ticket inspectors, ticket marking machines, passes, etc. - e.g. this infrastructure alone costs millions to support and maintain. If you make the transport free, then all this disappears. And often the savings will be close to the ticket/pass revenue that has been lost or at least will pay a significant portion of it.

E.g. that has been the case when they analyzed this option in Paris where making the public transport free has also been considered (it hasn’t been adopted yet). Eliminating all the ticket and pass related stuff would save several millions of euro annually, replacing most of the revenue lost from the sale of tickets and passes (running the system costs a lot more but those costs are born by the city and have to be paid regardless - the system is heavily subsidized already).


True but we are talking municipal public transport (e.g. a metro, trams, buses), not a nation-wide transportation system. Even though that exists too - e.g. in Slovakia trains are gratis for children, students and elderly.

A better comparison would be comparing Luxembourg with the public transport on e.g. Manhattan.


King County here in WA has just said they’ll make the buses free whenever it snows. Although I’m not sure how MUCH snow we have to get for it to happen; most years it’s a couple inches once or twice over the winter. Last winter was an outlier and spurred this change. We have a lot of hills, very few plows, and we got a foot+ that stuck around for a week last year.

It’s also free for students if you live more than a mile from your school and there isn’t a schoolbus route. But it’s “free” in the sense that they issue you a special card which only works during the school year, and you better not lose it.


So, we’re talking about a third the ridership of Manhattan, and about what, an eighteenth of NYC as a whole?

Whatever the comparison, costs to make sure everyone has a fare-ticket are almost always comparable to not having fares in the first place.

Transit should be like public sidewalks, not private toll roads that only profit the company in charge of the toll booth.


San Diego’s city dumbfuckastans just raised the fare, and ridership has slid to an all time low.


The buses in La Jolla were the slowest buses I have ever regularly ridden. They should be paying people to ride those things.


Has been this way in Austin, Texas for several years.
To qualify, be a rider with a current student ID, show it to the bus driver.

CapMetro will also issue students without a school ID its own in-house pass.

Not only does this give students who are not of driving age a measure of autonomy, but with Austin traffic being so bad these days, I am thrilled to get higher ridership and fewer cars on the streets, especially downtown or in densely-populated sections of Austin.


Their pilot of a free ferry system was also very popular.


I think that the other benefit, which was highlighted here- getting cars off of the road- is at least as important as ensuring mobility for all. And the middle classes are the ones with cars. Once you factor that in, maybe it’s worth it.


So it worked as planned they planned it to?

Here in and around Seattle there is a sizable group always trying to sabotage public transportation because that’s how the “undesirables get to the nice neighborhoods to shoplift and rape the white women”. That’s an actual quote I read some years ago from someone in Bellevue if I recall correctly. But to be fair there are shitty racist people everywhere. Fuck you shitty shitty people where ever you live.


One cost that is removed is that of ticket inspectors. The option to remove the usually noisy validation machines, usually right next to the drivers, who won’t have to endure that loud beeping, and won’t have to carry money either, lowering some risks to their persons. The cost of getting tickets printed and sold, either by humans or machines. Less littering from said tickets. Off with the Marketing Department and its various stupid schemes to get people to buy particular services…


Portland Oregon & Winnipeg Manitoba have some variation of free transit. 80% of city infrastructure is for automobiles. Turning to public transit will free up parking space, driveways, and some thoroughfares for other uses - like habitat


And thus have the French endured for centuries by using their brains, whereas we are going down the toilet.

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Gotta say, been living in switzerland for the past years, luzern and Lausanne, and while the public transport isn’t free, it is excellent. I’ve always lived close to decent connections, so buses every ten mins, and they’re predictable to the minute apart from very narrow rush hours, they run late and even run night buses on weekends. I used to dream of owning a nice car, now just think it would be a huge waste of money when i can travel the.whole city for around 700bucks a year


I am constantly saying London should do this. Certainly for buses, and ideally for Tube and commuter rail, too. If local government wasn’t so carefully designed to take the blame for everything while having almost no power or fiscal autonomy, I’m pretty sure Ken Livingstone would have done it.