Free Public Transit! (Sorry, It’s in Luxembourg)

Photo:  Gilpe/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Gilpe/Wikimedia Commons

SB Donation NYC header 2Little Luxembourg will be make riding the bus or train anywhere within its borders free beginning this summer.

The newly elected left-leaning coalition government announced its plans, aimed at reducing carbon emissions and easing traffic congestion, this week.

Luxembourg, in a niche surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany, is home to about 600,000 people — and, apparently, severe traffic congestion. The winning political coalition — the left wing Socialist Workers’ Party and Green Party and the centrist Democratic Party — campaigned on the promise of environmental progress, according to the Guardian.

Fares were already already relatively inexpensive. The country made them free recently for those under 20. Adult passes were limited to $2.20 per two-hour period, the Huffington Post reports.

Free transit will not only save Euros for Luxembourger, but also for the government, which no longer has to worry about collecting fares or enforcing payment.

Another European nation — Estonia — began offering free public transit nationwide this summer, but not all its regions have implemented the change yet, according to Weforum. Estonia’s decision came after a successful experiment in the city of Tallinn. That experiment, which began in 2013, actually turns a profit of about $23 million. That’s because, as the Guardian explains, more people registered as citizens of the city, which is a requirement to receive the free transit benefit. The additional taxes collected more than covered the cost of the fare losses.

Earlier experiments with free public transit in the U.S. and in Europe met with mixed-success, however. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, Austin, Texas; Denver and Trenton, New Jersey experimented with free public transit, The Atlantic reports. But the experiments weren’t very successful at luring people out of cars. Wealthier drivers aren’t that sensitive to price changes, observers noted.

Nevertheless, there appears to be renewed interest. The chairman of the Board of L.A. Metro transit, Phil Washington, said on Thursday that he supports congestion pricing to help pay for free transit in the region by 2028, according to Curbed.

In addition, there is a movement in the U.S. aimed at reducing transit fares for lower-income people. Many of America’s most progressive cities, including New York and Seattle, have already done so.

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  • war_on_hugs

    It will be very interesting to see this tested on a country-wide scale. As the article noted, previous attempts at free transit haven’t done that much to change mode share – people used to driving everywhere are enticed by the convenience, not the price. But this could still represent significant savings for lower-income people.

    However, it might not be that generally applicable, since Luxembourg is in a unique geographic situation with a lot of cross-border commuters.

  • kastigar

    “Another European nation — Estonia — began offering free public transit
    nationwide this summer, but not all its regions have implemented the
    change yet, according to Weforum.
    Estonia’s decision came after a successful experiment in the city
    of Tallinn. That experiment, which began in 2013, actually turns a
    profit of about $23 million. That’s because, as the Guardian
    explains, more people registered as citizens of the city, which is a
    requirement to receive the free transit benefit. The additional taxes
    collected more than covered the cost of the fare losses.”

    So you had to register as a citizen, and pay additional taxes, to get the free transit. Taxes must have been significant to pay for this. Did anybody do a cost/benefit analysis to see which was the lower cost: taxes vs. public transit?

  • FG

    I think that should read as “resident” not citizen.

    Several other cities, mostly smaller, have tried free transit with good results. One of them was a smaller French city and it was recently featured with several articles in major newspapers.

  • lars b amble

    calling seattle progressive is laughable. but great article otherwise ?

  • Jason

    Doesn’t most of Luxembourg live in just a few cities?

  • Derek Galey

    Check out an article I wrote about this:
    https://escholarship.org/uc/item/4p98p21x

    The citizen/resident distinction was very important in Tallinn, where a large minority Russian population are non-citizens but can still vote in municipal elections.

    Also, the framing of this article with respect to US experiments not being successful because they didn’t lure rich people out of cars is problematic, to say the least. In my article, I explain why!

  • Stephen Simac

    U Mass Amherst operates a regional bus service PVTA, (Pioneer Valley) “Bus routes operated by UMass Transit are fare-free for Five College
    students, faculty and staff. For the general public, fares are on a
    proof-of-payment “honor system”. Bus drivers will not collect
    fares/passes, but passengers are expected to have either a valid Five
    College student, faculty or staff ID cards or a fare ticket/pass for
    each ride.” so basically free, because enforcement is infrequent.

  • Stephen Simac

    “Symbolically, Freedom Square, in the heart of the city, which formerly served as a parking lot, has been reclaimed as a pedestrian plaza.” Great article. It will take me a while to get through it, but thought this quote illustrates American correlation of freedom with car mobility and free parking, “free”ways, etc..

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