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Free public transport

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Free public transport

Free public transport, often called fare free public transit or zero-fare public transport, refers to public transport funded in full by means other than collecting fares from passengers. It may be funded by national, regional or local government through taxation or by commercial sponsorship by businesses. The concept of "free-ness" is one that may take other forms, such as no-fare access via a card which may or may not be paid in its entirety by the user.


  • Types 1
    • City-wide systems 1.1
    • Local services 1.2
  • Benefits 2
    • Operational benefits 2.1
    • Commercial benefits 2.2
    • Community benefits 2.3
    • Global benefits 2.4
  • Disadvantages 3
  • List of towns and cities with area-wide zero-fare transport 4
    • Europe 4.1
      • Estonia 4.1.1
      • France 4.1.2
      • Germany 4.1.3
      • Czech Republic 4.1.4
      • Other European countries 4.1.5
    • Americas 4.2
      • Brazil 4.2.1
      • United States 4.2.2
  • Perception and analysis 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


City-wide systems

Tallinn, capital city of Estonia with more than 420.000 inhabitants, and several mid-size European cities and many smaller towns around the world have converted their public transportation networks to zero-fare. The city of Hasselt in Belgium is a notable example: fares were abolished in 1997 and ridership was as much as "13 times higher" by 2006.[1]

See list below.

Local services

Local zero-fare shuttles or inner-city loops are far more common than city-wide systems. They often use buses or trams. These may be set up by a city government to ease bottlenecks or fill short gaps in the transport network.

See List of free public transport routes for a list of zero-fare routes within wider (fare-paying) networks

Zero-fare transport is often operated as part of the services offered within a public facility, such as a hospital or university campus shuttle or an airport inter-terminal shuttle.

Some zero-fare services may be built to avoid the need for large transport construction. Port cities where shipping would require very high bridges might provide zero-fare ferries instead. These are free at the point of use, just as the use of a bridge might have been. Machinery installed within a building or shopping centre can be seen as 'zero-fare transport': elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks are often provided by property owners and funded through the sales of goods and services. Community bicycle programs, providing free bicycles for short-term public use could be thought of as zero-fare transport.

A common example of zero-fare transport is student transport, where students travelling to or from school do not need to pay. A notable example is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which provides much of the funding to operate the Stevens Point Transit system. All students at the university can use any of the four city-wide campus routes and the other four bus routes throughout the city free of charge. The university also funds two late night bus routes to serve the downtown free of charge with a goal of cutting down drunk driving.

In some regions transport is free because the revenues are lower that expenses from fare collection is already partially paid by government or company or service (for example BMO railway road in Moscow, most part of is used to as service transport and officially pick up passengers).


Operational benefits

Transport operators can benefit from faster boarding and shorter dwell times, allowing faster timetabling of services. Although some of these benefits can be achieved in other ways, such as off-vehicle ticket sales and modern types of electronic fare collection, zero-fare transport avoids equipment and personnel costs.

Passenger aggression may be reduced. In 2008 bus drivers of Société des Transports Automobiles (STA) in Essonne held strikes demanding zero-fare transport for this reason. They claim that 90% of the aggression is related to refusal to pay the fare.[2]

Commercial benefits

Some zero-fare transport services are funded by private businesses (such as the merchants in a shopping mall) in the hope that doing so will increase sales or other revenue from increased foot traffic or ease of travel. Employers often operate free shuttles as a benefit to their employees, or as part of a congestion mitigation agreement with a local government.

Community benefits

Zero-fare transport can make the system more accessible and fair for low-income residents. Other benefits are the same as those attributed to public transport generally:

Global benefits

Global benefits of zero-fare transport are also the same as those attributed to public transport generally. If use of personal cars is discouraged, zero-fare public transport could mitigate the problems of global warming and oil depletion.


Several large North American municipalities have attempted zero-fare systems, but many of these implementations have been unsuccessful. A 2002 National Center for Transportation Research report suggests that, while transit ridership does tend to increase, there are also some serious disadvantages:[3]

  • A sharp increase in vandalism and hooliganism
  • Transit vehicles turning into de facto homeless shelters
  • In large transit systems, significant revenue shortfalls
  • A significant increase in driver complaints and staff turnover, even though farebox-related arguments are all but eliminated
  • Slower service overall (not collecting fares has the effect of speeding boarding, but increased crowding tends to swamp out this effect)
  • Declines in schedule adherence
  • Increased costs in security and vehicle-maintenance
  • General increase in local and state/provincial taxes (including for those who do not use the bus)

This report suggests that, while ridership does increase overall, the ultimate goal of reducing emissions by enticing drivers to take transit instead is rarely met: because fare-free systems tend to attract large numbers of hooligans, vagrants and other "problem riders", zero-fare systems often have the effect of frightening potential riders back into their cars.[3]

List of towns and cities with area-wide zero-fare transport

For local and/or limited services, see List of free public transport routes



Town/City Population Operator First year Duration notes
Tallinn 420,000 2013 since 1.1.2013 The only capital city and the biggest to offer zero-fare public transportation. The economical level of Estonia shows that not only rich cities or countries can choose a zero-fare public transportation. As well as the universal access to Internet, the universal access to urban mobility is hold as a cornerstone of the equal opportunities policy.


Town/City Population Operator First year Duration notes
Aubagne 42,900 (100,000 in the area concerned) 2009 since 2009-05-15
Bar-le-Duc 15,700 2008 since 2008-09-01
Boulogne-Billancourt 110,000 1992 since 1992
Castres 62,500 2008 since 2008-10
Châteauroux 47,127 2001 since 2001
Colomiers 28,538 1971 since 1971 the first area of France to offer zero-fare public transport which is still in operation at present
Compiègne 12,500 1990s since 1990s [4]
Figeac 9,900 2003 since 2003-09
Issoudun 13,500 1989 since 1989 has Free in the name of the service (Transport Issoudun Gratuit)
Libourne 23,000 2009 since 2009-01-01 for under 18s
since 2010-08-28 for everyone
Manosque 22,200 2010 since 2010-01-01
Vitré, Ille-et-Vilaine 15,313 2001 since spring 2001 first French urban agglomeration to do so.


Town/City Population Operator First year Duration notes
Lübben 14,500 has been stopped influenced by Hasselt
Templin 16,500 has been stopped

Czech Republic

Chronologically ordered

Town/City Population Operator First year Duration notes
Třeboň 8,700 ČSAD Jindřichův Hradec a. s. 2002 between 2002-02 and 2007-08 under the mayor Jiří Houdek (KDU-ČSL), city transport has only one bus line (No 340300), influenced by USA school buses
Prague 1,285,000 many operators (first of all Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy) 2002 between 2002-08-15 (ca) and 2002-08-25, during the Vltava flood and flooding of the Prague metro also always during time of the smog or other emergency situation (used rarely - 1996/1997 for 2 day, 1992/1993 for 4 days[5]).[6]
Hořovice 6,800 Probo Trans Beroun s. r. o. 2008 since 2008-03 city transport has only one bus line (No 210009 alias C09 or C9)
Valašské Meziříčí 27,300 ČSAD Vsetín a. s. 2009 between 2009-06-14 and 2009-07-14 city transport has 5 bus lines
Přelouč 9,000 Veolia Transport Východní Čechy a. s. 2009 between 2009-12-01 and 2010-03-06 initial price at the newly established first city bus line (No 665101)
Frýdek-Místek 58,200 ČSAD Frýdek-Místek a. s.. 2011 since 2011-03-27 only 365-day chip coupon (howerver the chip card costs 299 Kč and prolongation 1 Kč) and user must to not be a debtor toward the city. Number of passengers has increased from 3.8 million in 2010 to 5.7 million in 2013. From 2014 is possible free travel on regional lines to next 18 villages and towns. Population in the serviced area is 100 000. Chip card for free public transport has 25 000 passengers.

Other European countries

Town/City Population Operator First year Duration notes
Gibraltar, Gibraltar 29,500 state 2011 since 2011-05
Manises, Spain 30,478 [7]
Nova Gorica, Slovenia 31,000 2006 since 2006-04
Hasselt, Belgium 72,000 De-Lijn 1997 since 1997-07-01 1300% ridership increase. Since 2013, Hasselt stop free bus
Mons, Belgium 92,000 TEC Hainaut 1999 since 1999-07-01
Kiruna, Sweden 18,090 2011 from 2011 to 2012-12 [8]
Övertorneå, Sweden 2,000 even 70 km free rides on local buses in this rural municipality
Mariehamn, Åland 11,000 in addition to free bus services, persons and bicycles travel free of charge with the archipelago ferries (there is a fee for motorcycles, cars, caravans and other vehicles).
Tallinn, Estonia 420,000 2013 since 2013 Tallinn is currently the largest city offering free public transport for its residents. Commuter trains and regional buses are excluded from the scheme. Tallinn is also the first capital with free public transport for its residents.
Keila, Estonia 9,873 2013 since 2013-02
Türi, Estonia 6,174
Żory, Poland 62,625 2014 starting no later than 2014-01-01 because before it must quit public transport union of upper Silesia. [9]
Lugoj, Romania 37,700 2013 starting 2013-07-01 [10]
Ploiesti, Romania 201,226 TCE S.A. 2014 starting 31 March 2014 Second largest city in the world that offers free public transport. The benefits are limited to city residents with an income under 3,000 RON per month (about €670).[11]
Cheremushki, RussiaCheremushki, Russia 9,000 trams are serviced by Dam's staff zero fare is official to anybody (de jure service line because the taxes would be higher than revenues)
Ilioupoli, Greece 78,153 municipality Free transportation to all, but only local buses, for specifically only local municipality buses.[12][13]



Town/City Population Operator First year Duration notes
Agudos, SP 36,700 local government 2011 since 2011 [14][15][16]
Ivaiporã, PR 31,812 local government 2011 since 2011 [14][15][16]
Porto Real, RJ 16,574 local government 2011 since 2011 [14][15]
Potirendaba, SP 15,449 local government 1998 since 1998 [17]
Paulínia, SP 86,800 local government 2013 since 2013 [18]
Muzambinho, MG 21,975 local government 2011 since 2011 [19]
Pitanga, PR 32,645 local government 2012 since 2012 [20]

United States

Town/City Population Operator First year Duration notes
Boone, North Carolina 17,122 AppalCart[21] 1981 since 1981 combination of funding from the town, Appalachian State University, Watauga County, and state and federal agencies.
Cache Valley, Utah Cache Valley Transit District 2000 since 2000
Canby, Oregon 15,829 Canby Area Transit
Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina 70,000+ Chapel Hill Transit 2002 since 2002 operated by the Town of Chapel Hill to serve Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill; supported by taxpayers and University fee-payers
Clemson, South Carolina 11,939 Clemson Area Transit partnership between Clemson University and surrounding communities
Commerce, California 41,000 City of Commerce Municipal Bus Lines all transportation services are free of charge[22]
Coral Gables, Florida 42,871
Corvallis, Oregon 54,462 Corvallis Transit System 2011 since 2011-02 [23]
Emeryville, California 9,727 Emery Go Round
Island County, Washington 81,054 Island Transit 1987 since 1987
Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho 3,003 Mountain Rides
Logan, Utah 49,534 Cache Valley Transit District 1992 since 1992
Macomb, Illinois 20,000 Go West Transit 2006 since 2006
Mammoth Lakes, California 8,234 Eastern Sierra Transit Authority
Marion, Indiana 29,948 Marion Area Transit System 2008 since 2008
Mason County, Washington 61,019 Mason Transit Authority (MTA) 1992
Sandy, Oregon 9,570 Sandy Area Metro 2000 since 2000
Stanford, California 13,809 Stanford Marguerite Shuttle
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minnesota 51,853 U of M Transitway 1992 since 1992
Vail, Colorado 4,589 over 20 hours of service every day during winter
Vero Beach, Florida 140,000 GoLine free 14-route public transit system serves 700,000 annual riders
Wilsonville, Oregon 19,509 South Metro Area Regional Transit

Perception and analysis

Free public transport creates the perception of a no-cost service, just as car drivers commonly perceive no cost to deciding to take their car somewhere. The catch of the car-based system is that the car trip is not in fact free, but it is generally perceived as such.

Likewise, this perception of freeness is important for public transport, which is far more environmentally and resource efficient than own-car travel – which means in this case that full access to the system need not be altogether “free” for its users but that from a financial perspective is becomes (a) front-loaded and (b) affordable. The invariable fact of life of delivering any public service is that the money to do so must come from somewhere – and of “free” public transport that once the user has entered into some kind of “contract” with her or his city – for example a monthly or annual transit pass that opens up the public system to unlimited use for those who pay for it. Now, how they pay and how much will be part of the overall political/economic package (“contract”) of their community. In cities that offer such passes – as is the case to take but one example in most cities in France that since the mid-seventies have had their own Carte Orange – the remainder of the funds needed to pay for these services comes from other sources (mainly in this case from employers, local government).

Left-wing advocacy groups, such as the Swedish network, see zero-fare public transport as an effort in the redistribution of wealth.[24] It is also argued that transportation to and from work is a necessary part of the work day, and is essential to the employer in the managing of work hours. It is thus argued that financing of public transportation should fall to employers rather than private citizens.[25]

See also


  1. ^ '10 jaar gratis openbaar vervoer' (in Dutch) on the city's official website
  2. ^ - Franse chauffeurs voor gratis buskaartje (in Dutch)
  3. ^ a b Perone, Jennifer S. (October 2002). "Advantages and Disadvantages of Fare-Free Transit Policy". NCTR Report Number: NCTR-473-133, BC137-38 (National Center for Transportation Research). Retrieved 01/11/2012. 
  4. ^ municipal website retrieved 2009-05-07 (in French)
  5. ^ Smogový regulační systém, ENVIS Praha
  6. ^ Tarif PID, XIV., 3.
  7. ^ municipal website (in Spanish) retrieved 2009-05-08
  8. ^ Kiruna municipality website (in Swedish) retrieved 2012-07-09
  9. ^ - Żory chcą wprowadzić bezpłatną komunikację miejską
  10. ^ - Premiera in Romania: Municipiul Lugoj va avea transport in comun gratuit
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ Ilioupoli
  14. ^ a b c "Transporte público grátis já existe em cidades brasileiras". Envolverde. Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  15. ^ a b c "Transporte gratuito é realidade em cidades brasileiras". A Tarde. Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  16. ^ a b "Tarifa zero é possível: conheça cidades que têm transporte público gratuito". Brasil Metrópole. Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  17. ^ "Prefeitura de Potirendaba garante circular gratuita para população". Prefeitura de Potirendaba. Retrieved 2013-10-25. 
  18. ^ "Moura Júnior anuncia tarifa zero no transporte público de Paulínia, SP". G1. Retrieved 2013-10-25. 
  19. ^ "Tarifa zero: transporte público é de graça em Muzambinho, MG". G1. Retrieved 2013-10-25. 
  20. ^ "“Tarifa zero” é realidade em alguns municípios pequenos do Brasil". Gazeta do Povo. Retrieved 2013-10-25. 
  21. ^ - Microsoft Word - AppalCART Overview110125.doc - overview02-01-11.pdf
  22. ^ "Transportation Services". City of Commerce, California (municipal web site). Retrieved 01/11/2012. 
  23. ^ "Corvallis Transit System drops bus fares".  
  24. ^ Free Public Transport
  25. ^ Kollektivtrafik ska vara avgiftsfri (Swedish)

External links

  • Network of groups promoting free public transport
  • Advocacy website
  • World Streets summer 2010 series on Free Public Transport
  • Argument against free public transport
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