Friday, July 9, 2010

Why Free Public Transport is a bad idea?!? (v. 1.1)

There are a number of proponents around the world for the idea that public transport should be free. And if we here at World Streets have some thoughts of our own on the subject, we also think it is always very important to check out both sides of the issues. Just below, you will find four short statements setting out arguments against FPT, and we are interested in hearing from our readers and colleagues around the world both (a) their comments on these criticisms and (b) yet other critical views. In later issues we will look at this from more positive sides, but with the intention of developing a range of views and recommendations on this important topic. Today however, we want to hear from you about the downside. Let's have a look at what we have thus far (and please do take the time to review the comments just below which enrich this first draft considerably):

(You will find extensive comments and additional information on this article at

The fact that most public transport is not "zero-fare" is evidence that there are arguments against this policy option. Some of these arguments include:

1. Fairness. Some people's transport needs may not be well-served by the public transport network, and yet they (as tax-payers) are forced to contribute to the cost of the service. At least in ideal economic models, user-pays systems lead to the most efficient allocation of scarce resources. Could the cost of paying for the public transport be better spent elsewhere?

2. Financial sustainability. Any extension or improvement to the public transport service must be fully funded from the public purse: being free, it cannot recover part of its cost from increased farebox revenue. As patronage on the system increases, so does the cost of provision. This may create resistance to measures to improve public transport or promote public transport use.

3. Crowding. Fares can be used to moderate demand. If cheaper fares are available off-peak, then people with more flexibility have an incentive to travel at off-peak times. This results in more effective use of limited resources. (Demand management is also used in telecommunications and energy markets.) It could be anticipated that a free service would be particularly crowded at peak times.

4. Impact on car industry. Greater public transport means that people use fewer cars; as a result, car manufacturers and service providers (e.g. mechanics, gas stations, etc.) can go out of business.

Source of the four above comments:

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Thank you for pitching in on this side of the debate. Of course we are also interested to hear from you with other comments and suggestions on this important transport policy issue. (See for an earlier World Streets article on this topic. Also:

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