Luxembourg is set to be the second country in the world to offer fare-free public transport by 2020.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel made the announcement just hours after being sworn in to a second term in office, one which will see him form a coalition government.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is bordered by Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south.
Its capital, Luxembourg City, is home to about 110,000 people, but 400,000 more commute into the major European financial and political hub each day.
It is hoped that the measure will alleviate the city’s traffic congestion by enticing drivers out of private cars and onto public transport, as Luxembourg City currently ranks among the 150 worst cities in the world (among 1,360 studied) for traffic congestion with drivers spending 33 hours on average per year stuck in traffic.
Current public transport fares in Luxembourg are low — capped at €2 (US$2.30) for up to two hours of travel, which covers almost any journey in this country of just 2,586 km².
It is understood that abolishing all public transport fares will save the government money on the collection and processing of fares, but questions remain on budget impacts and logistics (such what would happen to first and second class train compartments).
More details are expected to emerge at a 21 January press conference called by mobility and public works minister François Bausch, on the subject.
In Tallinn’s tracks
Luxembourg’s announcement makes it the second country in the world to announce fare-free public transport, coming six months after Estonia declared that its counties could introduce fare-free public transport, those choosing to do so being eligible for additional funding from the national budget.
When Estonia’s initiative came into effect on 1 July, 11 of its 15 counties introduced free public transport on county buses, making it the first country in the world to introduce near-nationwide free public transport, with some important caveats.
Estonia’s efforts build on what is perhaps the most famous fare-free public transport scheme around: in 2013, its capital Tallinn became the world’s first capital city to make public transport free for its 430,000 registered residents.
Tallinn’s is the largest scheme of its kind in existence, but it’s certainly not the only one; cities around the world have introduced fare-free public transport.
In France, according to Gart (Groupement des autorités responsables de transport), or Group of transport authorities, among the 300 transport networks in France, 24 have gone fare-free— totally, partially or conditionally— 11 of which serve areas of more than 50,000 residents.
• Dunkirk, France, with a metropolitan population of 200,000, became the largest French agglomeration to offer free public transport in September 2018.
• Chateureaux, a French town of 49,000, introduced fare-free public transport in 2001, at a time when its public transit system was in decline; since then, ridership of its bus system has increased dramatically.
• Aubagne, a metropolitan area of 100,000 near Marseille, France, adopted a free transit system in 2009 and raised its transport tax on large businesses from 0.6 to 1.8 per cent. Ridership has risen 170 per cent since then.
Templin, a German town of 14,000, has made the purchase of a ticket for travel on public transport obsolete since 1997, with the explicit goals of reducing automobile use and its accompanying noise, pollution and risk of accidents.
Then, there was the city of Hasselt.
In 1997, the Belgian city became one of the most closely watched examples of fare-free public transport when it made its buses fare-free— and ridership shot up rose tenfold, from 1,000 bus passengers per day in 1997 to 12,600 ten years later.
According to Eltis, by 2006, the system had transported 4.6 million travellers annually, but, in 2013, facing budget problems, the city reintroduced fares of €0.60, with exemptions for students and senior citizens.
Germany considered it as a possible measure to help improve its air quality and meet EU obligations; likewise, Paris, facing seasonal crisis-level smog, but the city later released a study that predicted that fare-free public transport in the French capital would reduce car traffic by just 2 per cent, “overwhelm the network and add €500 a year to household tax bills in the Ile-de-France region”.
Luxembourg’s announcement has revived discussions about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to fare-free public transport, under what circumstances it is likely to succeed, and what constitutes “success”.
Banner photo by mightymightymatze/CC BY-NC 2.0.