The idea of free public transport has clear environmental and political appeal. Cities in France and Germany are already considering such proposals, to reduce traffic and air pollution. And in the UK, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn declared that he would introduce free bus travel for under-25s, to complement the passes already available to senior citizens.
Tallinn, capital of Estonia, introduced free public transport for residents in 2013, but Luxembourg is to become the first entire country in the world to make all public transport within its borders free. All fares for trains, trams and buses will be scrapped by summer 2019 and funded purely by taxation as part of a new environmental initiative, prime minister Xavier Bettel, has announced.
Luxembourg City, the Grand Duchy’s capital, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world, with one study showing that drivers spent an average of 33 hours in traffic jams in 2016. Despite its tiny population of 110,000 people, some 400,000 – including those from the bordering countries of France, Belgium and Germany – commute to the capital city for work.
I’ve often thought public transportation should be funded to the point it most benefits society – which includes moving as many people as quickly and efficiently, and cleanly as possible. If a toll lane takes rich people in their single occupancy vehicles out of traffic while increasing revenue it is a good thing. It leaves fewer cars in the other lanes which improves flow.
However, creating a separate ‘pay to enter’ system of roads that allows the rest of the roadways to decay for lack of funding is not necessarily the right route.
Mr Bettel was sworn in for a second term on Wednesday, having promised during his election campaign to prioritise environmental issues, as well as considering introducing two new public holidays and legalising cannabis for recreational purposes. First elected in December 2013, Bettel is, internationally, the world’s third openly gay head of government following Iceland’s Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (2009–2013) and Belgium’s Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo (2011–2014).
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is the European Union’s wealthiest but second smallest member state, with a population of approximately 600,000. Annually, the national public transport system costs around €1 billion (£890 million) to run. The new coalition government has promised to invest more in public services. The plan will ease road network constraint as well as save money on fare collection and ticket inspection, but there still remain some issues to resolve before people can start travelling for free, such as decisions on what to do with first- and second-class train compartments.