Public transport infrastructure
Improving public transport infrastructure is essential to increase utilisation and facilitate a shift from passenger car transport. The public transport system must extend beyond urban areas to the much larger ‘travel to work area’ of suburbs, smaller towns and villages around each city/large town.
The public transport systems of German, Austrian and Swiss cities provide an excellent model for this – the public transport systems of Munich, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna and Zurich cover land areas ten to thirty times larger than the urban area of their respective city. However, in many cases, the frequency and reliability of public transport remain an issue.
Infrastructure costs are often a huge barrier to improving public transportation infrastructure. Apart from government grants, one funding option includes using local taxes explicitly earmarked for public transport. One example is the French public transport payroll levy paid by businesses with 11 or more employees (Versement Transport, VT). Companies support it as good public transport benefits employees and improve the local economy. As a result, VT has been a prime source of funding for the large number of tram systems that have been built in French cities in recent years.
In 2019 Berlin, Germany, announced that it would spend EUR 28 billion on improving public transport between 2019 and 2035. Market analysts predict that BVG will increase its revenue by around 3.4 % per year, partly from ticket price hikes (1.4 %) and improved passenger numbers (expected to grow by 1.8 %). Trams make up a big chunk of passenger transport, with an extra 70 kilometres of track planned in the next 15 years.
Madrid, Spain, is widely recognised as one of the best practices in terms of public transport integration. The integrated fare system is essential – one ticket covers all public transport to make transport as accessible as possible. The Madrid underground provides the most extensive coverage compared to other metro and subway rail networks —more than 89% of the population and 97% of jobs are within a one-kilometre radius from a station. Accessibility is key to ensuring high use, with the vast majority of those who use public transport living within 500 metres from the station. Public-private partnerships were used to cover the costs of building infrastructure.
Rail and “city tickets”
Travel tends to be quite carbon intensive and one of the key issues is the “last mile problem” where individuals face challenges on the last leg of their journey, i.e. from the airport or central station to their final destination. When transportation is too complicated, obscure, or challenging to deal with, individuals may opt for more carbon intensive solutions, such as taking a taxi or personal vehicle. A potential solution to this issue is introducing “city tickets” which combine all forms of public transportation, in addition to a train ticket, in order to more easily facilitate multimodal journeys and reduce emissions while travelling.
By combining public transport services to and from the station, in addition to transport during an individual’s stay in a city, transportation departments can incentivise the use of public transport across a wide swath of individuals, cities, and trips.
In Germany, Deutsche Bahn offers multiple possibilities for combining bus and tram tickets to get to the station with train tickets to get to the final destination. The “City-Ticket” is automatically included on journeys of over 100km to and from applicable areas and is valid in over 120 towns and cities across Germany. In addition the “City-Mobil” ticket allows the purchase of single trip or day-cards for areas which are not covered by the City Ticket to further facilitate multimodal trips.
Austria offers the possibility to buy a single ticket which combines train, bus, and tram through OBB. Regional transportation services offer their tickets for purchase through the OBB central ticket service. Tickets can also be purchased and used in one place through the OBB mobile app, further easing the transition between national and regional services. Tickets are automatically combined based on the user’s starting and final location and include further offers, specific city tickets, and other special offers when and where available.
Belgium also offers limited options for a single ticket combining train, bus, tram or metro in a variety of locations. Targeted at those individuals who often travel between two cities, such as students or business commuters these tickets enable all-in-one travel along a certain route and in a cooperating city.
The Netherlands has a single day travel ticket available to book for all modes of transportation throughout the country. The “Holland Travel Ticket” is available in peak and off peak times and may be purchased at ticket kiosks, service stations, or online.
Free public transport
As a public good, the accessibility of a transport network is essential to the daily life of every citizen, and accessibility is crucial as it facilitates lower emissions for those who may not be able to walk or cycle and would otherwise resort to a personal car.
By decreasing barriers to accessing public transportation like fees and ticketing requirements, it is possible to persuade individuals towards choosing lower emissions options for their next journey. The implementation of free public transport, along with multimodality, can reduce global oil demand by about 330 thousand barrels of oil a day, reduce emissions in transportation, and is an effective measure for social equity and quality of life. It is a robust measure for improving our environment and society.
At the same time, free public transport would come with two significant drawbacks. Firstly, it would result in a loss of proceeds for transport operators and thus require higher subsidies from public resources. Simultaneously, it would altogether remove the costs of the ticketing infrastructure, which in some cases, especially in smaller cities, can correspond to a quarter of the proceeds from ticketing. Secondly, free public transport may result in the misuse of the means of public transport for other purposes, e.g. partying or overstaying. Therefore, policymakers should consider the advantages and disadvantages of free public transport on a case-by-case basis.
In response to skyrocketing fuel prices in the first quarter of 2022, several jurisdictions implemented temporary free public transit. For example, Tasmania, Australia, implemented five weeks of free access to its bus system to alleviate pressure on consumers. Additionally, California, USA, introduced a bill that would implement free public transit for three months to direct response to high fuel prices.
Dangjin, South Korea, instituted a free public transit system in 2019 for all of its citizens of just under 200,000 people. The municipality accomplished this in three phases:
- In phase one, the elderly, physically disabled individuals, and veterans were given free transport tickets.
- In phase two, the municipality extended the availability of public transport to children and students.
- The free transportation program was made available to all citizens in phase three.
As a result, the extensive bus system saw a 30% increase in ridership among eligible groups yearly. The program also alleviated an average annual economic burden of 1,120,000 KRW (825 EUR) per household.
Luxembourg offers all public transport free of charge as of 2020. Passengers only require tickets for cross-border trips and first-class cabins. The government estimates the loss of ticket revenue at less than 10% of the total operating cost. The relatively small loss was part of the motivation to phase out fares. At the same time, increased usage of buses and trams within the city centre has reduced vehicle traffic overall.
Estonia introduced free public transport free to reduce car traffic in 2018. It started initially as an experiment in the capital city of Tallinn, where registered residents pay EUR 2 for a “green card” and can take all their trips for free. The government supported this measure by expanding the bus network and increasing the share of public transport trips. However, the percentage of trips by car has remained stubbornly high, a challenge which remains to be addressed.