What is the right price for “Free” Public Transport?

No Dorothy, it would be nice but there is no such thing as a free lunch. Not even in Kansas. Our cities need money to operate and maintain all the many parts of their hopefully high quality “public transport” systems”, but they also need schools, sanitation, health facilities, elderly care,  parks and public spaces, security, jobs to give everyone a chance for a full life in a peaceful community . . . and the long list goes on.  Transport, which can finance itself largely, if you have the brains to get it right, should not be poaching from these no-less critical basic needs of the community.  More,  we need our public transport systems (21st century definitions) to be both freely and extensively used (what is sadder than an empty bus!) — and at the same time build in provisions so that the system is fully equitable as well as efficient.

Preview of coming attractions . .  the answer is:

The right price is this: Exactly enough so that the vast majority of citizens will complain that it is too dear — and then buy it and use it anyway.  (And then we use this carefully acquired “surplus” to ensure affordable, quality transit for all.)

We will be continuing in these pages to scrutinize the wide range of potential benefits and costs and disbenefits that need to be brought into the equation.  Getting this right requires hard work, a flexible mind and a high degree of openness in the planning and policy process.  (If you are lazy or in a hurry for an easy answer, you better get out of the kitchen.)

PS. You may, you surely will, spot an apparent anomaly here. How can a transport  system pretend at once to be “free” and then require that people pay for service. Well the short answer to that is that what is most important is that it is PERCEIVED to be free, in a sense that we shall be carefully developing and debating here.   But we will be getting on to that shortly.

Also in this we need to bear in mind our greatly expanded vision of the range of mobility services the “public transport” properly defined actually provides (or should provide).  More on this at http://wp.me/psKUY-2v4

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But don’t stop here

Most consulted W/S articles on FPT since 2009 (And not over yet.)

* No FTP without SCR  (Systematic Car Reductions)

* To support Tallinn FTP project, W/S readers comment on FPT

* Free Public Transport! (But hey, are we talking about the same thing?)

* What is the right price for Free Public Transport?

* Free-for-all: Organizations supporting free public transport

* All W/S coverage of “Free” “Public Transport”

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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2 thoughts on “What is the right price for “Free” Public Transport?

  1. Dear Mr. Britton,

    It has been some years since I visited you at home in Paris and you took me to see the then new Velib park nearby. I have been following you in World Streets since, and a, really delighted to see the current series om pricing of free public transport. The subject and the titling are both essential.

    Now I will read the essays with real interest. … I note you have moved to “the country”. Congratulations, and I am glad to see that your site is going from strength to strength.


    J G Krishnayya,

  2. I think the way the question of whether transit should be “free” or not overlooks an important point. Right now individual use of highways is perceived to be “free” and buses you have to pay for. In an ideal world we would have a perfectly level playing field between all transport modes. But in the US and in other developed nations, we’ve overbuilt the highways at the expense of public transport and it shows! We’ve created a culture of dependency on cars and politicians are well-aware of the risk of trying to level the playing field.


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