Sunday, March 1, 2009

A "free" bus system

It pays to occasionally look overseas for examples of how other communities tackle their transport problems.
One interesting experiment is the Belgian city of Hasselt (pop. 70,000), whose City Council in 1997 decided to (partly) subsidise bus travel within the city, making it free for residents to use. It's called the zero fare system.
After 11 years of operation, a few national politicians are now demanding a scientific study into the social and economic effects and effectiveness of that system.
The costs are estimated to be "almost 5m euro" (about NZ$12m) a year, borne by the City Council, the regional Flemish Government and national public transport company De Lijn. In cost distribution terms, all Flemish people pay 50 euro cents a year, but Hasselt residents pay 21 euro a year in local tax to pay for the free bus.
The uptake of the free bus system increased 13-fold since 1997, but is in relative terms actually quite limited: only 9.3% of residents use buses for commuting purposes. Other cities without a zero fare system have actually a higher uptake. This is leading to the conclusion that it's not the fare level but the frequency and public transport network density which largely determines whether people will forsake using their cars for commuting.

No comments: