Monday, November 26, 2012

What is the right price for Free Public Transport?

No Dorothy, it would be nice but there is no such thing as a free lunch. Not even in Kansas. Our cities need money to operate and maintain all the many parts of their hopefully high quality "public transport" systems", but they also need schools, sanitation, health facilities, elderly care,  parks and public spaces, security . . . and the long list goes on.  Transport, which can finance itself largely if you have the brains to get it right, should not be poaching from these no-less critical basic needs of the community.  More,  we need our public transport systems (21st century definitions) to be both freely and extensively used (what is sadder than an empty bus!) -- and at the same time build in provisions so that the system is fully equitable as well as efficient.

Preview of coming attractions . .  the answer is:

The right price is this: Exactly enough so that the vast majority of citizens will complain that it is too dear -- and then buy it and use it anyway.  And then we use this carefully acquired "surplus" to ensure affordable, quality transit for all.

We will be continuing in these pages to scrutinize the wide range of potential benefits and costs and disbenefits that need to be brought into the equation.  Getting this right requires hard work, a flexible mind and a high degree of openness in the planning and policy process.  (If you are lazy or in a hurry for an easy answer, you better get out of the kitchen.)

PS. You may, you surely will, spot an apparent anomaly here. How can a transport  system pretend at once to be "free" and then require that people pay for service. Well the short answer to that is that what is most important is that it is PERCEIVED to be free, in a sense that we shall be carefully developing and debating here.   But we will be getting on to that shortly.

Also in this we need to bear in mind our greatly expanded vision of the range of mobility services the "public transport" properly defined actually provides (or should provide).  More on this at

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* For more on Free Public Transport from World Streets, click here.

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