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Why Free Public Transport is a BAD idea? - Comments

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  • eric britton
    A new comment on the post Why Free Public Transport is a bad idea? is at http://worldstreets.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/why-free-public-transport-is-a-
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 9, 2010
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      A new comment on the post "Why Free Public Transport is a bad idea?" is at



      Author : Brendan Finn

      E-mail : etts@...



      Here are my five reasons for not making transit free:


      1) Needlessness: People are willing to pay a fair price for a reasonable quality product. It makes no sense to give it away and lose all the income customers were willing to give. The people transit most needs to attract - car-users - pay a lot of money to buy and run their car. They have already shown a willingness to pay for quality, so why focus on free rather than quality?


      2) Effectiveness: Free transit means that a lot of public money goes on provision of the basic service. For a city of 1 million people, this is likely to require 300 to 500 million Euro per year just to  keep what we have going. That consumes all the money that could have been spent on extra services, better quality, transit improvement schemes such as BHLS/BRT, terminal/stop upgrades, etc.


      3) Social balance: Transit would need an extra 200-300 million Euro per year in a typical city just to fill the gap for what people were paying already. This is serious money, and would fund a wide range of educational, health, social support, urban improvement and other things that would improve the daily lives of the citizens. While transit subsidies should remain, it is hard to make a case that the marginal benefits of making it free outweigh the other worthy uses of public funds for the same group of citizens.


      4) Dependency: Free transit means complete dependency on the public purse, and the political support for such a policy. Expensive programs get cut sooner or later, it is inevitable as government philosophy changes. The Horn of Plenty dries up.  Reintroducing fares and a slew of service cuts to balance the books seriously undermines transit attractiveness and ridership. If making transit free attracts riders, it stands to reason that charging for it again will drive them away.


      5) Loss of business focus: Transit is a business. It works well and efficiently because people remember that it is a business. Even if the public purse is a significant customer who pays for those extra services, affordable tariffs, extra quality, etc., it is still run as a business. You work hard for your buck, and you make sure the job gets done right and gets done safely. If you forget that it is a business, the discipline goes and everything gets sloppy.


      I can also give five reasons to justify public subsidies to transit (which I believe in), but that's not the same thing as making it free.



    • eric britton
      New comment on your post Why Free Public Transport is a bad idea? Author : Anzir Boodoo (IP: , E-mail : ab@transcience.co.uk
      Message 2 of 2 , Jul 9, 2010
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        New comment on your post "Why Free Public Transport is a bad idea?"

        Author : Anzir Boodoo (IP: ,

        E-mail : ab@...





        I think you are forgetting a couple of other major reasons...


        5. Free public transport creates modal shift from walking (and possibly cycling). For example, the free city centre bus in Leeds (UK) has mostly replaced trips on foot, not trips by taxi from the railway station (as intended) or even short hop trips by bus. Free public transport can thus be a loser on public health grounds (people should be walking and cycling more), and CO2 emissions (which are higher by bus than on foot)


        6. Free public transport may encourage people to travel more, since the only cost is their time. This will also increase individuals' level of emissions, not to mention pollution from diesel buses (as they will stop more and we will need more of them)


        7. Free public transport may encourage people to use their city centres more than local suburban centres (I don't have any evidence for this!), or large out of town hypermarkets instead of their local suburban centres or local shops.


        8. Free public transport is unfair on the "polluter pays principle". All transport produces CO2 emissions, from breathing when you walk or cycle, to the fuel use of motorised transport. Are we allowing people to burn fuel and not pay for the damage this causes?


        9. It's well known anecdotally (from observation, if not from studies) that people value things they pay for, and not necessarily things they get for free (see "the tragedy of the commons"). What about respect for drivers, vehicles and infrastructure?


        Before you ask, I'm all for cheaper public transport, and believe we should be subsudising it to an extent, but I don't think making it free is the answer. I know the mayors and officials of towns like Hasselt in Belgium (where buses are free) would disagree...


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