Countries with free public transport: Luxembourg launches world's first free nationwide public transport

The historic district Grund in Luxembourg City. Photo: iStock

Luxembourg has become the first country with a free public transport system, with all fares for trams, trains and buses abolished as of February 29 2020. The one exception is first-class train travel, which will cost GBP2.60 (EUR3) per journey.  The scheme was originally announced in 2018, with a summer 2019 launch planned, but delays pushed the move back to this year. 

In particularly good news for tourists, transport will be free to all visitors to the country as well as Luxembourg’s 614,000 residents – making a holiday in the verdant country a little more cost-effective. 

Countries with free public transport: Luxembourg launches world's first free nationwide public transportThe Passerelle Bridge and steeples of Notre Dame Cathedral, Luxembourg. Photo: iStock

The new scheme is part of a wider plan to get 20 per cent more people on public transport by 2025, and reduce cars on the road by 15 per cent. The small European country struggles with traffic, and has more cars per capita than any other EU nation. According to a 2018 survey by TNS Ilres, cars accounted for 47 per cent of business travel, with buses only used for 32 per cent of trips to work, and trains for 19 per cent.

For context, 69 per cent of workers use public transport in Paris, according to Insee, the French statistics institute.

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Get the latest news and updates emailed straight to your inbox. Around 200,000 people – around half of Luxembourg’s workforce – commute into the country each day for work from neighbouring Germany, France and Belgium, usually by car. The country’s population growth is also among the highest in Europe at three per cent a year, further adding to concerns about congestion.

In addition to waiving fares, it is also hoped that improved bike lanes, overhauled bus routes, and expanded tram lines and railways (a £A6.6 billion investment in the train network is underway) will help change commuter attitudes to public transport. 

But how much will it cost?

Luxembourg’s transport system costs £835m to run, but fare revenue only comes to £68m – just 8 per cent of this total. The nation’s government decided this was an acceptable amount of revenue to lose, and the loss is already being met by the national treasury. Existing staff won’t lose their jobs either, though they’ll now be focused on passenger service and safety rather than checking tickets. 

The move has been met with enthusiasm by Luxembourgians, who stand to make significant savings. Prior to March 1, a single fare cost £3.38 (EUR2), and a day pass was double that. An annual pass cost £745 (EUR440). 

A number of other cities have been mulling over making public transport free in an attempt to tackle air pollution. Germany announced it would be trialling free public transport across five cities, with a view to rolling it out across the country if successful, in 2018, while a recent proposal in Washington DC could see residents not have to pay for metro rides.  The UK is still a long way off free transport, but the Government recently announced it would be trialling cheaper rail fares for part-time workers, with commuters able to buy season tickets covering only part of the week, rather than having to buy weekly, monthly or annual tickets. 

Six other places with free public transport

Tallinn, Estonia

In 2013, Tallinn became the first capital in the EU to provide free public transport to its citizens, after a referendum was held and 75 per cent of residents voted in favour.

To make use of the system, all people had to do was register as a resident of the city, and pay EUR2 for a “green card”. Alas, tourists are not included in this, neither are residents from wider Estonia. Nevertheless, the scheme has been so successful the Estonian government is planning to roll it out across the rest of the country.

Australia

Adelaide in South Australia runs a number of free bus and tram services within the CBD (Central Business District).

Brisbane’s free City Loop and Spring Hill Loop bus services run frequently within its CBD, and to nearby Spring Hill. Brisbane’s river ferries are also free on a CityHopper scheme. Melbourne, Australia’s trendiest city, is naturally also on board with its Free Tram Zone, taking residents and tourists to the iconic Queen Victoria Market, across to Victoria Harbour in Docklands, up to Spring Street and over to Flinders Street Station and Federation Square completely gratis.

Ghent, Belgium

Countries with free public transport: Luxembourg launches world's first free nationwide public transport

Belgian city of Ghent.

In 2017, Ghent announced its inner city would become a low emissions zone, with only registered vehicles that met strict conditions allowed in. The city centre is also now car-free. As part of this ambitious move, the ‘Walking Bus’ was introduced: a free electric bus in the city centre.

Visitors can recognise it by its eye-catching blue colour. Incredibly, Ghent’s plan cost just GBP3.4m to implement – in comparison, it costs an estimated GBP20m-GBP30m to build a single mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air, with nitrogen oxide levels dropping by 20 per cent since 2017.

USA

The United States has a number of free public transport options, but the most notable are in Salt Lake City, Kansas City and Olympia (Washington).

In 2019, Salt Lake City declared its public transport free for two days a week – Fare Free Thursdays and Fridays. Meanwhile, Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year.

Yorkshire

There is a corner of England that is fare-free: West Yorkshire. The Free Town Bus (or Free City Bus) operates in several cities and towns in the area, namely Wakefield, Huddersfield and Dewsbury.

All originally started as trials but proved so popular they’re still running.  The Telegraph, London See also: The world’s 20 coolest public transport rides

See also: The world’s most spectacular public transport ride costs just 60 cents

Mar 4 2020

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