Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Luxembourg to become first country to make all public transport free

Revised with new date -- Sunday, 12/9 because of new information

In the comment thread, charlie wrote: "Ironic, because Luexembourg is well known as a gas-tax haven for locals -- drive there to fill up."

That changes "everything" in terms of recommendations.

This new point is #6 below with subsequent renumbering.

(this is one of the problems of arm chair pontificating from great distances without on the ground knowledge, sometimes you miss key points.)


NotionsCapital calls our attention to this article about Luxembourg--a very small country--moving to a free transit paradigm. From the article:
Luxembourg is set to become the first country in the world to make all its public transport free.

Fares on trains, trams and buses will be lifted next summer under the plans of the re-elected coalition government led by Xavier Bettel, who was sworn in for a second term as prime minister on Wednesday.

Bettel, whose Democratic party will form a government with the leftwing Socialist Workers’ party and the Greens, had vowed to prioritise the environment during the recent election campaign. ...

Luxembourg City, the capital of the small Grand Duchy, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world.

It is home to about 110,000 people, but a further 400,000 commute into the city to work. A study suggested that drivers in the capital spent an average of 33 hours in traffic jams in 2016.
2.  1. Interestingly, I just happened to come across this paper, "Fare's fair? Concessionary travel policy and social justice," from the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice published by Policy Press at Bristol University UK.

I still need to work through it. It has a nice summation of the existing literature but points out there isn't a lot published on the topic.

3.  Getting back to Luxembourg, for this to really work, since much of the traffic is commuting traffic originating in France and Belgium ("Cross-border workers provide nearly half of Luxembourg's workforce," Luxembourg Times), for free transit to have a substantive dampening effect on motor vehicle traffic, they'd need to have cross-border free transit with transit authorities in France and Belgium participating.

4.  They could do this by setting up a cross-border German style transport association, which links transit planning and operations and is often agnostic when it comes to borders between states or countries:

-- "Verkehrsverbund: The evolution and spread of fully integrated regional public transport in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland," Ralph Buehler, John Pucher & Oliver Dümmler, International Journal of Sustainable Transportation (2018)
-- Transport Alliances -– Promoting Cooperation and Integration to offer a more attractive and efficient Public Transport, VDV, the association of German transport companies

and by having a fare media system like that of Talinn, Estonia, where transit is free for registered residents, when using a specially issued transit card  ("The Tallinn experiment: what happens when a city makes public transport free," Guardian). Non-residents pay for transit.  From the article:
The capital of Estonia introduced free public transport at the beginning of 2013 after their populist mayor Edgar Savisaar called a referendum on the decision, dismissed by critics at the time as a political stunt that the city couldn’t afford. ... the city remains committed to the programme – claiming that instead of it costing them money, they are turning a profit of €20m a year.

To enjoy Tallinn’s buses, trams, trolley buses and trains for free you must be registered as a resident, which means that the municipality gets a €1,000 share of your income tax every year, explains Dr Oded Cats, an expert who has conducted a year long study on the project. Residents only need to pay €2 for a “green card” and then all their trips are free.
5. Instead of being free for residents only, to work it would also have to be free for commuters, not unlike the free transit pass recently provided to Downtown employees in Columbus, Ohio, instituted as a transportation demand management measure ("Downtown workers getting free COTA passes," Columbus Business First).

6.  Perhaps most importantly, charlie pointed out in a comment on the original piece that Luxembourg is known for having cheaper gas than Belgium and France, so that people make a point of going there to buy gasoline.  This obviously encourages (induces) motor vehicle based trips to Luxembourg.

Price per gallon of gas

Luxembourg €4.30/$4.89
Belgium €5.26/$5.99
France €5.45/$6.20

Increasing gasoline excise taxes so that prices are more comparable to Belgium and France may have as important effect on transit use and motor vehicle trip reduction as providing free transit.

7. Free transit on Whidbey Island in Washington State ("Next Door to BC, the Bus Is Free: Fare-free transit on Whidbey Island is a 20-year success story") among others is discussed in The Tyee series, "No Fares," and follow up article, "Free Transit? Experts Are Wary."

8. Major cities in Germany might move to a free transit paradigm as an air quality improvement measure ("Germany considering free public transportation to take on air pollution," Die Welt).

8. Some small cities based on a tourism-focused economy, like Park City, Utah, also have free transit systems, as a transportation demand management measure for visitors, residents, and employees.

-- Visitor Transportation Study: Report on Urban Visitor Transportation Services, Volpe Transportation Center, USDOT

10.  Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, and Calgary, Alberta still have "Downtown free fare zones."  Seattle and Portland--the nation's most prominent example--used to, but dropped them after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, which led to massive drop offs in tax revenues for governments and transit agencies ("TriMet board kills Portland's Free Rail Zone, raises fares, cuts bus service," Portland Oregonian, 2012).

11.  With financial support from a casino and sports team, the Pittsburgh free fare zone was extended to the North Shore Casino and Sports Stadium district ("Free North Shore T service expected to survive without Steelers as sponsor," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Although to make up for lost funding when the Pittsburgh Steelers declined to continue their participation after the initial three year period, revenue from parking fees kept the service free ("Downtown Pittsburgh to North Shore light-rail service not charged; lot parking rates rise," PPG).


I've written about this issue concerning DC at times, including:

-- "Is making surface transit free the best transit investment DC can make?," 2016

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At 11:42 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Ironic, because Luexembourg is well known as a gas-tax haven for locals -- drive there to fill up.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Didn't know that. That would be another element I would have addressed in the post.

Like here. As long as gas taxes are cheap, people will buy motor vehicles and drive. In an environment like that it's almost impossible to make transit competitive, unless, like you mentioned years ago, "transit's killer app is when it's faster and/or cheap" (paraphrased).

If Luxembourg has cheap gas, obviously it incentivizes both driving and more trips.

I probably should revise it, it's that important of a point.

converted to gallon price

Luxembourg €4.30 | $4.89
Belgium €5.26 | $5.99
France €5.45 | $6.20

At 1:18 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Also very much an issue right now because of the protests on the new french fuel tax.

I don't think you need to revise your argument -- basically a new government is turning over a new leaf -- just have to place that in context and wonder how serious they are about promoting transit versus the publicity.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I've been meaning to write about France. It definitely shows the difference between thinking about these issues as a politician vs. a planner. And that moving too far ahead of the electorate on "carbon taxes" can be the kiss of death.

That being said, if so many of the "reforms" by Macron weren't so market oriented + cutting the taxes of the wealthy, then maybe people would have gone along.

Recently Simon Wren-Lewis wrote a blog entry about austoerity in the UK, and how people were convinced, at least in the initial period, that they were all "contributing" as hard as it made life, to helping the country. Of course, it was just making coming out the recession that much harder, and it was merely another element of screwing the impoverished.

But in France, before raising those fuel taxes, Macron should have stepped back on cutting taxes for the rich.


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