Free Public Transport – Future-Oriented or Illusory?

An interview with Monica Semedo, MEP from Luxembourg

 

In Luxembourg, public transport became completely free of charge on 1st March. We spoke with Monica Semedo, MEP from Luxembourg and member of the ruling “Democratic Party” about the project.

Find the original interview in German here.

 

Luxembourg is the first country in the world to introduce public transport completely free of charge: how did this initiative come about and what does the government hope to gain from the project? And most importantly: how will the government finance the project while at the same time ensuring a high level of quality and safety?

The idea of free public transport comes from the Democratic Party (DP) programme for the 2018 parliamentary elections, and we made sure that this point was included in the government agreement and is now being implemented.

The advantages are obvious. Train, bus and tram will become even more attractive. The government hopes that the free use of public transport will increase the number of passengers, supporting a clean and climate-friendly alternative to cars.

Free use alone is of course not enough to make public transport more attractive than cars. It is not a panacea and we do not demonise the car. It is our concern to offer an attractive, equivalent and more climate-friendly alternative to individual transport. For this reason, considerable resources will be invested in infrastructure in the upcoming years (e.g.: P&R spots, express bus lines).

But free public transport also has a social component. An annual subscription in 2nd class costs 440 euros per year. This money will therefore be available to public transport users in the future. The DP-led government is convinced that this will encourage more people to switch to bus, train and tram. Promoting decentralised workplaces and teleworking will also help to avoid unnecessary traffic and improve the work-life balance of our citizens.

Public transport has so far been largely subsidised by the public sector. In 2018, expenditure on public transport amounted to almost 900 million euros. Meanwhile, revenues from ticket sales only amounted to around 40 million euros. The elimination of ticket controls and national ticket sales will save some of the lost revenue. However, the government is in favour of increasing the number of security staff on public transport.

 

How is the campaign being received and to what extent has the government been able to convince its critics?

The majority of Luxembourgers are convinced of free public transport and see it as the best measure for improving mobility. Not only our citizens and the people who work in Luxembourg, but also tourists can spontaneously get on the bus, train or tram to get from A to B.

In the Estonian capital, Tallinn, free public transport was introduced 8 years ago by a three-quarters majority. A decision that today 90% of the population welcomes.

The government in Luxembourg is reacting calmly to criticism and is pursuing a proactive information policy. In a frequently voiced accusation, for example, it is claimed that free public transport will be financed by a new CO2 tax. However, this is not the case. After all, half of the revenue from the CO2 tax goes directly back to the citizens in the form of social compensation, while the other half is generated by investments and climate protection measures (e.g. subsidies for energy-saving renovations).

 

Is free public transport in other EU countries a realistic future scenario? Will you promote this model among your colleagues in the European Parliament?

I cannot judge whether free public transport is a realistic alternative for other EU countries. However, in the Estonian capital Tallinn, one year after the introduction of free public transport, passenger numbers have increased by 14% and 90% of the residents are satisfied with the service. Perhaps a similar model would be possible in other large cities, but a comparison with small Luxembourg is difficult. Nevertheless, I will be promoting the Luxembourg model in the European Parliament. My fellow MEPs, with whom I have discussed this, are certainly enthusiastic about this measure.

 

Monica Semedo is a Luxembourgish television presenter and politician. Since the beginning of the current legislative period, she has been representing the liberal “Democratic Party” as a member of the “Renew Europe” group in the European Parliament.