Free Fares Policies: Impact on Public Transport Mode Share and Other Transport Policy Goals
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionInternational Journal of Transportation. 2013, 1 (1), 75-90. 10.14257/ijt.2013.1.1.05
This article investigates the merits of free public transport as a means to achieve a number of transport policy objectives, including mode shift towards public transport. It outlines some political and societal motivations behind proposals for free and low fare schemes, and presents key economic principles for public transport pricing. Examples of free fare schemes mainly from Europe are summarised and their impacts synthesised. Although free public transport at a first glance may seem attractive both from economic, social and environmental perspectives, the message learnt from a number of schemes is that free public transport offers poor goal achievement in all these respects, and at a high cost. The main effect is a huge growth in patronage, up to 13-fold increase is reported, of which the larger brunt is shifted from walk/cycle, or induced. The effects on car traffic levels are marginal and typically they are offset already after a few years’ traffic growth. Successful free public transport schemes are those whose goal is mainly to grow patronage. Congestion relief, social and environmental benefits are best achieved with more targeted measures, or in combination with such measures.