International transport: Free public transport

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Kai Gondlach

The topic of my master’s thesis, which I wrote for Deutsche Bahn in 2013, is still topical: For issue 3/2014 of the magazine “Internationales Verkehrswesen” (IV) I was able to contribute a contribution on my heart thesis “Free Public Transport”. At this point, i would like to thank the former colleagues of DB for their support and support.

Here is the whole article (courtesy of the IV): “Free public transport: utopia or plausible future?”

Free public transport = utopia?!

My IV contribution focuses on funding and the problems involved. As a result, I conclude that most of the projects implemented in connection with free public transport were insufficiently thought through. Therefore, free public transport can also be regarded as a utopia; because without an overall concept, every model is doomed to failure.

In most cases of implementation, mainly due to legal restrictions, taxpayers’ money or budget repurposed. This usually went well for a while; in Hasselt, Belgium, the pioneering city of free public transport, even for quite a long time (1997-2013). However, there are several factors that speak against such funding, the crucial one being the rigidity of the funds. The end of the song: the cities can no longer pay the transport companies through no fault of their own, the system is being changed again and the use of transport is changing again.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that the free offer of mobility is most likely to induce much more or less unnecessary traffic. This was the case in all cities that have experimented with zero-tariff models – but it should be avoided. To this end, intelligent measures must be implemented at the same time, which offer appropriate advantages to pedestrians and cyclists if they continue to drive unmotorised.

Free public transport = plausible future!

However, there are models in which free public transport can be seen as a plausible future. It is all a question of the adequate mix of push-and-pull measures; By this I mean that, on the one hand, a great deal of money would have to be invested in the development of infrastructure in order to be able to shoulder the expected high volume of traffic. On the other hand, a balanced approach also includes the measurement of mobilised private transport (MIV).

A generally compulsory mobility levy, as has already been thought through on paper for many cities, can be a solution. The principle is simple: all citizens pay a public transport levy similar to the broadcasting fee, from which the operation and investments are paid for public transport. This fee is accompanied by rising car tax revenues and parking charges.

Feasibility research is currently underway in some German cities, including the Potsdam City Council’ decision by the city council. I am very excited about the result.

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