World Streets welcomes discussion of fare free public transport because we believe that it is important to listen to alternative views from different organizations and countries in order to arrive at wise public policy. This contribution comes from one of the most active international groups pushing zero fair public transport, Planka.nu in Sweden.
Public Transport is a Common Good
- Christian Tengblad, Planka.nu, Stockholm
In Stockholm, politicians from most parties are now settled on combating climate change, making the cars back off from public space and changing the traffic hierarchy. But when it comes to public transportation, the fares have skyrocketed and are up 76% (from the year 2000). That is almost three times the normal evolution of prices. The effect has been measured by analytics, and is not surprisingly the single most negative factor for ridership.
So although there is an understanding of the traffic challenges, but the actual politics make people more dependent on cars and create demand for new city highways. The fare-pressure is also affecting the mobility of people, and the SL traffic company is putting the millions towards new ticket barriers instead of developing traffic.
The public transportation system does not deserve this treatment: it is a necessity for a lot of commuters, provides mobility to people – especially those of us that cannot afford cars – and it provides benefits for the society that exceed the costs. Some examples: the pubic transportation company Västtrafik calculated that every dollar spent on public transportation gives us 1,75 dollars back. Road safety, better air quality, fewer parking spaces, better health and less road damage are factors that are included. If we bring the climate factor into the equation, the argument becomes even more convincing.
But there are other forces at work: the idea of automobility – that people become free by individual mobility – is not conquered by facts alone. In Sweden the automobile industry and the state has been inseparable, a fact that still affects politics. The Traffic Hierarchy http://carbusters.org/2010/08/02/the-traffic-hierarchy/ – with the car in the top of the pyramid – is still intact. To change things, we not only need a dissenting opinion, we need to organize the power of commuters.
The most common way to get around the burden of fares is to dodge them. The verb Planka means to skip a barrier, usually when there are fares involved. This has traditionally been a weakness – if you can’t afford the ticket then you need to planka – but we wanted to make it into something else. Inspired by the Italian 1970-ies movement of “autoreduction” we organized a fare dodgers fund https://planka.nu/eng/ that covers the penalty fares of all members. This makes the individual weakness of not having money into the collective strength of a fare strike.
To transform the public transportation system into a common good, commuters need to organize worldwide. Not everyone can launch a fare strike, bur there are countless of ways to gain leverage as commuters. Free Public Transportation has been successful in cities like the Estonian capital Tallinn, and has broken the negative trend for public transportation there. It’s time to team up for fare free public transport in different parts of the globe!
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Planka.nu is a network of groups working locally for free public transport . Today the have branches in Stockholm , Gothenburg area , Scania , and Oslo. Planka.nu has taken the decision to work outside the established system and through their GATECRASHING insurance, p-checkout and through their public outreach work. “Planka.nu is a flat organization and we are working on a voluntary basis. We are inspired by the ideas of direct action and self-reduction, and choose to combine this with a more classic political lobbying work and our work as Sweden’s only traffic think tank.”
Freeriding insurance’s “
P-kassan the freeriding insurance is a cooperation between people in similar situations. We cannot afford the fare ,or do not want to pay it. You pay a small amount to the fund and if you get caught freeriding your bill is paid. The idea of this insurance is not new. It has been tried before and for quite some time, especially by students in the university cities, and has worked well even though in a small scale. The difference is that we have a greater goal than just helping each other to freeride. We want free public transportation, owned by us together and controlled by the workers in it.”
At a time in which we need to be rethinking from the very base our transportation arrangements, including testing all of our received beliefs on the topic, it would be pure folly not to make an effort to understand what these mainly young people and groups are trying to tell us. There are many layers and nuances to what they have to propose, and policymakers should be prepared to listen to and learn from them. Because at the end of the day the solution is going to be very different from present practices, so we might as well start to become comfortable with, what for many, may be uncomfortable thoughts.
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Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is MD of EcoPlan International, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government, business and civil society on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. His forthcoming book, “Toward a General Theory of Transport in Cities”, is being presented, discussed and critiqued in a series of international conferences, master classes, workshops and media events over 2014. (More at http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7)