Why Free Public Transport is a BAD idea? - Comments
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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.