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Free public transport, often called fare free public transit or zero-fare public transport, refers to public transport funded in full by means other than collecting fares from passengers. It may be funded by national, regional or local government through taxation or by commercial sponsorship by businesses. The concept of "free-ness" is one that may take other forms, such as no-fare access via a card which may or may not be paid in its entirety by the user.
Several mid-size European cities and many smaller towns around the world have converted their bus networks to zero-fare. The city of Hasselt in Belgium is a notable example: fares were abolished in 1997 and ridership was as much as "13 times higher" by 2006.
Local zero-fare shuttles or inner-city loops are far more common than city-wide systems. They often use buses or trams. These may be set up by a city government to ease bottlenecks or fill short gaps in the transport network.
Some zero-fare services may be built to avoid the need for large transport construction. Port cities where shipping would require very high bridges might provide zero-fare ferries instead. These are free at the point of use, just as the use of a bridge might have been. Machinery installed within a building or shopping centre can be seen as 'zero-fare transport': elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks are often provided by property owners and funded through the sales of goods and services. Community bicycle programs, providing free bicycles for short-term public use could be thought of as zero-fare transport.
A common example of zero-fare transport is student transport, where students travelling to or from school do not need to pay. A notable example is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which provides much of the funding to operate the Stevens Point Transit system. All students at the university can use any of the four city-wide campus routes and the other four bus routes throughout the city free of charge. The university also funds two late night bus routes to serve the downtown free of charge with a goal of cutting down drunk driving.
In some regions transport is free because the revenues are lower that expenses from fare collection is already partially paid by government or company or service (for example BMO railway road in Moscow, most part of is used to as service transport and officially pick up passengers).
Transport operators can benefit from faster boarding and shorter dwell times, allowing faster timetabling of services. Although some of these benefits can be achieved in other ways, such as off-vehicle ticket sales and modern types of electronic fare collection, zero-fare transport avoids equipment and personnel costs.
Passenger aggression may be reduced. In 2008 bus drivers of Société des Transports Automobiles (STA) in Essonne held strikes demanding zero-fare transport for this reason. They claim that 90% of the aggression is related to refusal to pay the fare.
Some zero-fare transport services are funded by private businesses (such as the merchants in a shopping mall) in the hope that doing so will increase sales or other revenue from increased foot traffic or ease of travel. Employers often operate free shuttles as a benefit to their employees, or as part of a congestion mitigation agreement with a local government.
Global benefits of zero-fare transport are also the same as those attributed to public transport generally. If use of personal cars is discouraged, zero-fare public transport could mitigate the problems of global warming and oil depletion.
Several large North American municipalities have attempted zero-fare systems, but many of these implementations have been unsuccessful. A 2002 National Center for Transportation Research report suggests that, while transit ridership does tend to increase, there are also some serious disadvantages:
This report suggests that, while ridership does increase overall, the ultimate goal of reducing emissions by enticing drivers to take transit instead is rarely met: because fare-free systems tend to attract large numbers of hooligans, vagrants and other "problem riders", zero-fare systems often have the effect of frightening potential riders back into their cars.
|Aubagne||42,900 (100,000 in the area concerned)||2009||since 2009-05-15|
|Colomiers||28,538||1971||since 1971||the first area of France to offer zero-fare public transport which is still in operation at present|
|Issoudun||13,500||1989||since 1989||has Free in the name of the service (Transport Issoudun Gratuit)|
|Libourne||23,000||2009||since 2009-01-01 for under 18s|
since 2010-08-28 for everyone
|Vitré, Ille-et-Vilaine||15,313||2001||since spring 2001||first French urban agglomeration to do so.|
|Lübben||14,500||has been stopped||influenced by Hasselt|
|Templin||16,500||has been stopped|
|Třeboň||8,700||ČSAD Jindřichův Hradec a. s.||2002||between 2002-02 and 2007-08||under the mayor Jiří Houdek (KDU-ČSL), city transport has only one bus line (No 340300), influenced by USA school buses|
|Prague||1,285,000||many operators (first of all Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy)||2002||between 2002-08-15 (ca) and 2002-08-25, during the Vltava flood and flooding of the Prague metro||also always during time of the smog or other emergency situation (used rarely - 1996/1997 for 2 day, 1992/1993 for 4 days).|
|Hořovice||6,800||Probo Trans Beroun s. r. o.||2008||since 2008-03||city transport has only one bus line (No 210009 alias C09 or C9)|
|Valašské Meziříčí||27,300||ČSAD Vsetín a. s.||2009||between 2009-06-14 and 2009-07-14||city transport has 5 bus lines|
|Přelouč||9,000||Veolia Transport Východní Čechy a. s.||2009||between 2009-12-01 and 2010-03-06||initial price at the newly established first city bus line (No 665101)|
|Frýdek-Místek||58,200||ČSAD Frýdek-Místek a. s..||2011||since 2011-03-27||only 365-day chip coupon (howerver the chip card costs 300 Kč and prolongation 1 Kč) and user must to not be a debtor toward the city. This was introduced temporarily until the beltway will be finished. From July 2013 is possible free travel also on some regional lines to next 11 villages. The longest line goes up to 30 km distant tourist destination in Moravian-Silesian Beskids. Number of passengers has increased from 3.8 million in 2010 to 5.7 million in 2013.|
|Gibraltar, Gibraltar||29,500||state||2011||since 2011-05|
|Nova Gorica, Slovenia||31,000||2006||since 2006-04|
|Hasselt, Belgium||72,000||De-Lijn||1997||since 1997-07-01||1300% ridership increase. Since 2013, Hasselt stop free bus|
|Mons, Belgium||92,000||TEC Hainaut||1999||since 1999-07-01|
|Kiruna, Sweden||18,090||2011||from 2011 to 2012-12|||
|Övertorneå, Sweden||2,000||even 70 km free rides on local buses in this rural municipality|
|Mariehamn, Åland||11,000||in addition to free bus services, persons and bicycles travel free of charge with the archipelago ferries (there is a fee for motorcycles, cars, caravans and other vehicles).|
|Tallinn, Estonia||420,000||2013||since 2013||Tallinn is currently the largest city offering free public transport for its residents. Commuter trains and regional buses are excluded from the scheme. Tallinn is also the first capital with free public transport for its residents.|
|Keila, Estonia||9,873||2013||since 2013-02|
|Żory, Poland||62,625||2014||starting no later than 2014-01-01||because before it must quit public transport union of upper Silesia.|
|Lugoj, Romania||37,700||2013||starting 2013-07-01|||
|Ploiesti, Romania||201,226||TCE S.A.||2014||starting 31 March 2014||Second largest city in the world that offers free public transport. The benefits are limited to city residents with an income under 3,000 RON per month (about €670).|
|Cheremushki, RussiaCheremushki, Russia||9,000||trams are serviced by Dam's staff||zero fare is official to anybody (de jure service line because the taxes would be higher than revenues)|
|Agudos, SP||36,700||local government||2011||since 2011|||
|Ivaiporã, PR||31,812||local government||2011||since 2011|||
|Porto Real, RJ||16,574||local government||2011||since 2011|||
|Potirendaba, SP||15,449||local government||1998||since 1998|||
|Paulínia, SP||86,800||local government||2013||since 2013|||
|Muzambinho, MG||21,975||local government||2011||since 2011|||
|Pitanga, PR||32,645||local government||2012||since 2012|||
|Boone, North Carolina||17,122||AppalCart||1981||since 1981||combination of funding from the town, Appalachian State University, Watauga County, and state and federal agencies.|
|Cache Valley, Utah||Cache Valley Transit District||2000||since 2000|
|Canby, Oregon||15,829||Canby Area Transit|
|Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina||70,000+||Chapel Hill Transit||2002||since 2002||operated by the Town of Chapel Hill to serve Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill; supported by taxpayers and University fee-payers|
|Clemson, South Carolina||11,939||Clemson Area Transit||partnership between Clemson University and surrounding communities|
|Commerce, California||41,000||City of Commerce Municipal Bus Lines||all transportation services are free of charge|
|Coral Gables, Florida||42,871|
|Corvallis, Oregon||54,462||Corvallis Transit System||2011||since 2011-02|||
|Emeryville, California||9,727||Emery Go Round|
|Island County, Washington||81,054||Island Transit||1987||since 1987|
|Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho||3,003||Mountain Rides|
|Logan, Utah||49,534||Cache Valley Transit District||1992||since 1992|
|Macomb, Illinois||20,000||Go West Transit||2006||since 2006|
|Mammoth Lakes, California||8,234||Eastern Sierra Transit Authority|
|Marion, Indiana||29,948||Marion Area Transit System||2008||since 2008|
|Mason County, Washington||61,019||Mason Transit Authority (MTA)||1992|
|Sandy, Oregon||9,570||Sandy Area Metro||2000||since 2000|
|Stanford, California||13,809||Stanford Marguerite Shuttle|
|University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minnesota||51,853||U of M Transitway||1992||since 1992|
|Vail, Colorado||4,589||over 20 hours of service every day during winter|
|Vero Beach, Florida||140,000||GoLine||free 14-route public transit system serves 700,000 annual riders|
|Wilsonville, Oregon||19,509||South Metro Area Regional Transit|
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (July 2008)|
Free public transport creates the perception of a no-cost service, just as car drivers commonly perceive no cost to deciding to take their car somewhere. The catch of the car-based system is that the car trip is not in fact free, but it is generally perceived as such.
Likewise, this perception of freeness is important for public transport, which is far more environmentally and resource efficient than own-car travel – which means in this case that full access to the system need not be altogether “free” for its users but that from a financial perspective is becomes (a) front-loaded and (b) affordable. The invariable fact of life of delivering any public service is that the money to do so must come from somewhere – and of “free” public transport that once the user has entered into some kind of “contract” with her or his city – for example a monthly or annual transit pass that opens up the public system to unlimited use for those who pay for it. Now, how they pay and how much will be part of the overall political/economic package (“contract”) of their community. In cities that offer such passes – as is the case to take but one example in most cities in France that since the mid-seventies have had their own Carte Orange – the remainder of the funds needed to pay for these services comes from other sources (mainly in this case from employers, local government).
Left-wing advocacy groups, such as the Swedish network Planka.nu, see zero-fare public transport as an effort in the redistribution of wealth. It is also argued that transportation to and from work is a necessary part of the work day, and is essential to the employer in the managing of work hours. It is thus argued that financing of public transportation should fall to employers rather than private citizens.