An increasing number of European countries and cities are making public transport free. The continent is facing rapidly rising energy costs and high inflation rates. Free-transport measures will help to reduce climate change impacts and mitigate the energy crisis.
Green parties, experts, and climate groups have been fighting for major changes in the transportation industry for many years. Their main motivation was to tackle climate change, but now, with the war in Ukraine they have another reason: Reducing fuel consumption and the continent’s dependence on Russia, by using trains, tramways, and buses rather than cars.
Locals and tourists can travel by train in Spain for absolutely nothing
The latest example is Spain, where the government has announced free train travel from September 1 to December 31. This action will focus on commuter services and medium distance trains (excluding single-journey tickets, or long-distance travels).
Renfe, the state-owned train service, wants to encourage travellers to opt for train travel in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis:
“This measure encourages to the maximum the use of this type of collective public transport to guarantee the needed daily commute with a safe, reliable, comfortable, economic and sustainable means of transportation, amid the extraordinary circumstances of the steady increase of energy and fuel prices.”
Statement of the Spanish Ministry of Transport
One-off deal to lower transport fees in Germany
In June this year, Germany slashed public transport fares and launched a €9 ($11.75 CDN) unlimited monthly public transport ticket. This initiative was part of a government energy relief package and lasted until the end of August.
Ricarda Lang, Green party head, wished the measure could be extended:
“Obviously, the potential for affordable public transport in Germany is huge and the nationwide €9 ticket is a successful model for which we should find a follow-up arrangement – not least from a climate policy point of view.”
Luxembourg and Malta: setting an example in free public transport
Luxembourg, one of Europe’s smallest countries, had the idea to test free public transport in February 2020. Free train, tram and bus tickets added €41 million ($53 million CDN) to the government’s annual transport budget.
With one of the highest per capita income in the world, Luxembourg was experiencing a problem with the density of vehicles.
François Bausch, Green Party member and former minister of Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development, made a clear statement:
“The challenge for modal shift is very simple: Make the other modes more attractive than the car. […] The policy establishes a principle that people’s access to transport should not be restricted by their income.”
It is too early to see evidence of the reduction of cars, but in general Luxembourgers express an optimistic attitude toward this policy, Bausch said.
Malta will be the second EU country to start free public transport for all residents. This action will save at least €390 per year for its citizens (those who use public transport at least twice a day).
“This must be coupled with an effort to increase its efficiency and reliability. It is only when public transport is a suitable alternative that it makes sense for governments to start a campaign to substantially reduce cars from our roads”.
Carmel Cacopardo. Malta’s Green Party, ADPD, Chairperson.
These efforts are helping to increase households’ savings. But will these steps effectively contribute to shift from car use to public transport?