Free public transport, often called fare free public transit or zero-fare public transport, refers to public transport funded in full by means other than collecting fares from passengers. It may be funded by national, regional or local government through taxation or by commercial sponsorship by businesses. The concept of "free-ness" is one that may take other forms, such as no-fare access via a card which may or may not be paid in its entirety by the user.
Tallinn, capital city of Estonia with more than 420,000 inhabitants, and several mid-size European cities and many smaller towns around the world have converted their public transportation networks to zero-fare. The city of Hasselt in Belgium is a notable example: fares were abolished in 1997 and ridership was as much as "13 times higher" by 2006.
Polling place in the historic tramway Gotha G4-61
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Local zero-fare shuttles or inner-city loops are far more common than citywide systems. They often use buses or trams. These may be set up by a city government to ease bottlenecks or fill short gaps in the transport network.
Some zero-fare services may be built to avoid the need for large transport construction. Port cities where shipping would require very high bridges might provide zero-fare ferries instead. These are free at the point of use, just as the use of a bridge might have been. Machinery installed within a building or shopping centre can be seen as 'zero-fare transport': elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks are often provided by property owners and funded through the sales of goods and services. Community bicycle programs, providing free bicycles for short-term public use could be thought of as zero-fare transport.
A common example of zero-fare transport is student transport, where students travelling to or from school do not need to pay. A notable example is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which provides much of the funding to operate the Stevens Point Transit system. All students at the university can use any of the four citywide campus routes and the other four bus routes throughout the city free of charge. The university also funds two late night bus routes to serve the downtown free of charge with a goal of cutting down drunk driving.
In some regions transport is free because the revenues are lower that expenses from fare collection is already partially paid by government or company or service (for example BMO railway road in Moscow, most part of is used to as service transport and officially pick up passengers).
Many large amusement parks will have trams servicing large parking lots or distant areas. Disneyland in Anaheim, California, runs a tram from its entrance, across the parking lot, and across the street to its hotel as well as the bus stop for Orange County and Los Angeles local transit buses. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, provides tram service throughout its parking lot.
Transport operators can benefit from faster boarding and shorter dwell times, allowing faster timetabling of services. Although some of these benefits can be achieved in other ways, such as off-vehicle ticket sales and modern types of electronic fare collection, zero-fare transport avoids equipment and personnel costs.
Passenger aggression may be reduced. In 2008 bus drivers of Société des Transports Automobiles (STA) in Essonne held strikes demanding zero-fare transport for this reason. They claim that 90% of the aggression is related to refusal to pay the fare.
Some zero-fare transport services are funded by private businesses (such as the merchants in a shopping mall) in the hope that doing so will increase sales or other revenue from increased foot traffic or ease of travel. Employers often operate free shuttles as a benefit to their employees, or as part of a congestion mitigation agreement with a local government.
Zero-fare transport can make the system more accessible and fair for low-income residents. Other benefits are the same as those attributed to public transport generally:
Global benefits of zero-fare transport are also the same as those attributed to public transport generally. If use of personal cars is discouraged, zero-fare public transport could mitigate the problems of global warming and oil depletion.
Several large U.S. municipalities have attempted zero-fare systems, but many of these implementations have been judged unsuccessful by policy-makers. A 2002 National Center for Transportation Research report suggests that, while transit ridership does tend to increase, there are also some disadvantages:
This U.S. report suggests that, while ridership does increase overall, the goal of enticing drivers to take transit instead of driving is not necessarily met: because fare-free systems tend to attract a certain number of "problem riders", zero-fare systems may have the unintended effect of convincing some 'premium' riders to go back to driving their cars. It should be kept in mind that this was a study that only looked at U.S. cities, and the author's conclusions may be less applicable in other countries that have better social safety nets and less crime than the large U.S. cities studied.
|The Netherlands||Central government||1991||since 1991||Free public transport for students Studentenreisproduct or OV-studentenkaart in the whole Netherlands. Students can choose for free transport on weekdays and 40% discount in the weekends, or vice versa.|
|Voronezh, Voronezh Oblast, Russia||1,032,382||municipality||2003||since 2003||Free buses run every 30 min. (designated by the letter Н) |
|Miass, Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia||151,387||municipality||1991||until 2002||Free trolleybuses and buses|
|Gibraltar, United Kingdom||29,500||state||2011||since 2011-05|
|Nova Gorica, Slovenia||31,000||2006||since 2006-04|
|Hasselt, Belgium||72,000||De-Lijn||1997||since 1997-07-01||1300% ridership increase 1996-2006. In 2013, Hasselt stopped free bus service for adults; riders under 19 still travel for free.|
|Mons, Belgium||92,000||TEC Hainaut||1999||since 1999-07-01|
|Avesta, Sweden||21,000||from 2012
 retrieved 2016-06-17
|Kiruna, Sweden||18,090||2011||from 2011 to 2012-12|||
|Övertorneå, Sweden||2,000||even 70 km free rides on local buses in this rural municipality|
|Żory, Poland||62,625||2014||since 2014-05-01||Unconditionally free for all users.|
|Lugoj, Romania||37,700||2013||starting 2013-07-01|||
|Ploiești, Romania||201,226||TCE S.A.||2014||starting 31 March 2014||The benefits are limited to city residents with an income under 3,000 RON per month (about €670).|
|Ilioupoli, Greece||78,153||municipality||Free transportation to all, but only local buses, for specifically only local municipality buses.|
|Akureyri, Iceland||18,803||2007||Since 2007-01-01|||
|Tallinn||435,245||2013||since 2013-01-01||Tallinn is currently the largest city offering free public transport for its residents. Regional buses are excluded from the scheme. Elron commuter trains are also free inside the city limits. Tallinn is also the first capital with free public transport for its residents.|
|Lübben||14,500||has been stopped||influenced by Hasselt|
|Templin||16,500||has been stopped|
|Senec||18,000||MAD Senec||2013||since 2013-11-01||city transport has only one bus line|
|Aubagne||42,900 (100,000 in the area concerned)||2009||since 2009-05-15||The Aubagne tramway is considered to be the first completely fare-free tram system in the world.|
|Colomiers||28,538||1971||since 1971||the first area of France to offer zero-fare public transport which is still in operation at present|
|Issoudun||13,500||1989||since 1989||has Free in the name of the service (Transport Issoudun Gratuit)|
|Libourne||23,000||2009||since 2009-01-01 for under 18s
since 2010-08-28 for everyone
|Vitré, Ille-et-Vilaine||15,313||2001||since spring 2001||first French urban agglomeration to do so.|
|Třeboň||8,700||ČSAD Jindřichův Hradec a. s.||2002||between 2002-02 and 2007-08||under the mayor Jiří Houdek (KDU-ČSL), city transport has only one bus line (No 340300), influenced by USA school buses|
|Prague||1,285,000||many operators (first of all Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy)||2002||between 2002-08-15 (ca) and 2002-08-25, during the Vltava flood and flooding of the Prague metro||also always during time of the smog or other emergency (used rarely - 1996/1997 for 2 day, 1992/1993 for 4 days).|
|Hořovice||6,800||Probo Trans Beroun s. r. o.||2008||since 2008-03||city transport has only one bus line (No 210009 alias C09 or C9)|
|Valašské Meziříčí||27,300||ČSAD Vsetín a. s.||2009||between 2009-06-14 and 2009-07-14, again since 2017-09||city transport has 5 bus lines|
|Přelouč||9,000||Veolia Transport Východní Čechy a. s.||2009||between 2009-12-01 and 2010-03-06||initial price at the newly established first city bus line (No 665101)|
|Frýdek-Místek||58,200||ČSAD Frýdek-Místek a. s.||2011||since 2011-03-27||only 365-day chip coupon (however the chip card costs 299 Kč and prolongation 1 Kč) and user must to not be a debtor toward the city. Number of passengers has increased from 3.8 million in 2010 to 5.7 million in 2013. Since 2014, it is possible to travel free on regional bus lines to next 18 villages and towns. Population in the serviced area is 100 000. Chip card for free public transport has 25 000 passengers.|
|Strakonice||22,900||ČSAD STTRANS a. s.||2018||since 2018-01-01||in 2017, the city bus transport was free for senior citizens, childern and students up to 26 years; since 2018, buses are free for all, but only in the city zone (sections outside the city are still paid).|
|Lovosice||8,700||BusLine a. s..||2018||since 2018-01-28||the only bus line no. 558001 started 10 years ago, 2008-01-28|
|Tórshavn||20,000||Tórshavn City Council||Six different bus lines.|
|Cheremushki, RussiaCheremushki, Khakassia, Russia||9,000||trams are serviced by Dam's staff||zero fare is official to anybody (de jure service line because the taxes would be higher than revenues)|
|Agudos, SP||36,700||local government||2011||since 2011|||
|Ivaiporã, PR||31,812||local government||2011||since 2011|||
|Porto Real, RJ||16,574||local government||2011||since 2011|||
|Potirendaba, SP||15,449||local government||1998||since 1998|||
|Paulínia, SP||86,800||local government||2013||since 2013|||
|Maricá, RJ||146,549||Empresa Pública de Transportes - EPT||2014||since 2014|||
|Muzambinho, MG||21,975||local government||2011||since 2011|||
|Pitanga, PR||32,645||local government||2012||since 2012|||
|Silva Jardim, RJ||21,307||local government||2014||since 2014-02-15|||
|Boone, North Carolina||17,122||AppalCart||1981||since 1981||combination of funding from the town, Appalachian State University, Watauga County, and state and federal agencies.|
|Cache Valley, Utah||Cache Valley Transit District||2000||since 2000|
|Starkville, Mississippi||23,888||Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit|
|Canby, Oregon||15,829||Canby Area Transit|
|Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina||70,000+||Chapel Hill Transit||2002||since 2002||operated by the Town of Chapel Hill to serve Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill; supported by taxpayers and University fee-payers|
|Clemson, South Carolina||11,939||Clemson Area Transit||partnership between Clemson University and surrounding communities|
|Commerce, California||41,000||City of Commerce Municipal Bus Lines||1962||since 1962||all transportation services are free of charge|
|Coral Gables, Florida||42,871|
|Corvallis, Oregon||54,462||Corvallis Transit System||2011||since 2011-02|||
|Emeryville, California||9,727||Emery Go Round|
|Island County, Washington||81,054||Island Transit||1987||since 1987||Fares charged on route 412C (intra-county service to Everett, Washington from Camano Island)|
|Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho||3,003||Mountain Rides|
|Lebanon, New Hampshire||13,151||Advance Transit||combination of state and federal funding and from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth College. Also serves Hanover and White River Junction, Vermont|
|Logan, Utah||49,534||Cache Valley Transit District||1992||since 1992|
|Macomb, Illinois||20,000||Go West Transit||2006||since 2006|
|Mammoth Lakes, California||8,234||Eastern Sierra Transit Authority|
|Marion, Indiana||29,948||Marion Area Transit System||2008||since 2008|
|Mason County, Washington||61,019||Mason Transit Authority||1992||Fares charged on intra-county routes|
|Missoula, Montana||69,122||Missoula Urban Transportation District|
|Park City, Utah||8,300||Park City Transit||Also serves Snyderville Basin|
|Sandy, Oregon||9,570||Sandy Area Metro||2000||since 2000|
|Stanford, California||13,809||Stanford Marguerite Shuttle|
|University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minnesota||51,853||U of M Transitway||1992||since 1992|
|Vail, Colorado||4,589||over 20 hours of service every day during winter|
|Vero Beach, Florida||15,220||GoLine||free 14-route public transit system serves 700,000 annual riders|
|Walla Walla, Washington||50,600||Valley Transit||1981||During summer months only|
|Wilmington, Vermont||2,225||Deerfield Valley Transit Association||1996||since 1996||free 13-route public transit system operated by Southeast Vermont Transit serving 200,000 riders annually and providing commuter bus service between Bennington and Brattleboro. Operates as "the MOOver".|
|Wilsonville, Oregon||19,509||South Metro Area Regional Transit|
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Free public transport creates the perception of a no-cost service, just as car drivers commonly perceive no cost to deciding to take their car somewhere. The catch of the car-based system is that the car trip is not in fact free, but it is generally perceived as such.
Likewise, this perception of freeness is important for public transport, which is far more environmentally and resource efficient than own-car travel – which means in this case that full access to the system need not be altogether “free” for its users but that from a financial perspective it becomes (a) front-loaded and (b) affordable. The invariable fact of life of delivering any public service is that the money to do so must come from somewhere – and of “free” public transport that once the user has entered into some kind of “contract” with her or his city – for example a monthly or annual transit pass that opens up the public system to unlimited use for those who pay for it. Now, how they pay and how much will be part of the overall political/economic package (“contract”) of their community. In cities that offer such passes – as is the case to take but one example in most cities in France that since the mid-seventies have had their own Carte Orange – the remainder of the funds needed to pay for these services comes from other sources (mainly in this case from employers, local government).
Social-justice advocacy groups, such as the Swedish network Planka.nu, see zero-fare public transport as an effort in the redistribution of wealth. It is also argued that transportation to and from work is a necessary part of the work day, and is essential to the employer in the managing of work hours. It is thus argued that financing of public transportation should fall to employers rather than private citizens.