These EU cities have embraced free public transport
These EU cities have embraced free public transport
The growing trend in the provision of basic services has its own name – zero tariff
transport mobility as a basic human right and a free service: who would have thought this could be possible a few decades ago? However, in the EU, more and more places are starting to embrace the idea and offer their residents (and tourists) the possibility to move around their city without financial worries.
Nowadays, a comfortable life as a modern urban dweller is considered a necessity in prosperous societies. But it’s not just that. Concerns such as CO2 emissions from private transport, overcrowding, traffic jams and the need for more spaces were seen as problems requiring solutions. And then there was the war in Ukraine and the consequent rise in fuel prices which showed the precariousness of having to rely on owning a private car.
The Luxemburg The government was the first to respond, making the country in 2020 the first in the world to offer free public transport and beyond. It will soon be followed by Maltawhich will take the same step on October 1, 2022. However, these are very small countries with a small population.
Making public transport free at all levels in large societies might still be too complex and inefficient. More recently, the case of The test of the 9 euro banknote in Germany has shown that it can lead to overcrowding and problems during critical times like holidays.
More convenient and easier to manage is the introduction of free public transport in towns, districts and cities. If this proves successful over time, then it could be extended to a wider area. The approach is also known as zero-fare or free transport. In Europe, it was actually first tried in a suburb of Toulouse called Colomiers in 1971 and the service survived there until 2016 when it closed due to reorganization and inefficiency.
Things are only getting better, as a growing number of European local authorities are showing their dedication to providing public goods that benefit the people. And they’re not afraid to experiment in uncharted territory, like zero-fare transportation.
European cities with free transport
Following a referendum in 2013, the residents of Tallinn (capital of Estonia) voted overwhelmingly in favor of free public transport. The problem of Tallinn can be compared to the problem of the city of Luxembourg: thousands of commuters go to the city center every day. Additionally, many low-income people struggled to pay. The system has worked without any major problems for almost a decade now, although analysts say it has not led to a reduction in the number of passenger cars on the streets.
In the French town of Dunkirk, measures to provide free buses and trains have, however, led to a drop in traffic. Since 2018, residents can travel for free on public transport.
A study conducted a few months after the change found that it discouraged residents from driving their cars. Although two-thirds of respondents said they were dependent on cars, more than half said they now regularly take buses to get around. Around 5% even said that the availability of free buses convinced them to sell their car or not to buy a second vehicle.
In prison (also in France) was a pioneer in the implementation the first free tram network in the world, and public transport has been free since 2009. Initially seen as a simple test, the initiative has proven to be a resounding success. After three years, there were 5,000 fewer cars circulating in the city each day, a decrease of 10%. The popularity of public transport has also increased by 235%.
Cascais is, to date, the only municipality in Portugal to have opted for free public transport. And he is happy with the results.
Anyone who has heard of Livigno is probably also an avid skier. This village in the Italian Alps offers free public transport from 7:30 am until 8:00 pm. The city is very clear for its visitors: no one needs a car to discover it and it seems like a good way to stand out among winter destinations.
Rather than skiing in Italy, you might want to explore the island vibes of the North. Here is Ærø, a charming little Danish island, where you can take the bus for free as much as you want. It is known as the sunniest place in all of Denmark and its colorful houses and modest inhabitants make it an easy destination to choose. Keep in mind that the ferry that takes you to the island is not free, however.
Many people would rejoice if amsterdam were to set up a completely free public transport network. And while that’s still not a reality, the good news is that the city’s ferries floating through its canals are indeed free for pedestrians, cyclists and mopeds.
Not just a western phenomenon
If we turn our gaze to Eastern Europe, we will find that there are also notable examples of free transport.
Since 2011, people can use public transport for free in Frýdek-Mistek, a city in the east of the Czech Republic. The number of passengers increased by 40% in the first two years. What’s really cool is that the free buses easily take you to the more remote villages and thus go beyond the city borders to serve the bordering regions. The longest free ride takes you 30 kilometers further into the Beskydy tourist mountain.
The regional expansion aspect of zero-tariff services has also been introduced in parts of the Lower Silesian region Poland. Free transport exists in Polkowice, an industrial town of 22,000 inhabitants, and in certain settlements in its canton, in Lubin and in its entire canton and in certain settlements in the canton of Legnica, an industrial town of 100,000 inhabitants.
samokov is a town in Bulgaria of about 27,000 inhabitants, located at the foot of the Rila Mountains on the way to the famous ski resort of Borovets. The initiative was initially intended for locals only, but two years after its launch, public transport was offered free to all.
Velenje is the sixth largest city in Slovenia and one of the recently selected 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030. It has a network of free yellow buses that transport you around the city. What makes this town so special, besides its enduring character, is Lake Velenje, the deepest lake in the whole country. Next to the city you will find a green oasis, which can be reached for free by bus.
These are some notable examples of European cities, which would also be worth visiting this summer in order to try their free public transport offer first hand. It remains to be seen whether they will serve as an inspiration for scaling up zero-fare transport on a larger scale.