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Estonia plans to become a free public transport nation (popupcity.net)
472 points by doener 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 279 comments



Makes sense and I'm a big fan. The only worry I have are a lack of market forces. How do five bussing companies compete if there's no revenue model. I wonder how they tackled that.

For example it may make sense to charge more for luxurious buses, or for a buses that drive on a dedicated lane for which they pay a more expensive license but are faster, or buses that offer wifi, or buses that come by every five minutes, or buses that drive at 3am. These all have fundamentally different cost components. Does the government pay for it all, allowing bus companies to inflate prices? Are there caps? If so, on what basis? And how does pricing work in a low-competition area like a subway operator with a 30y license, and government paying for it all?

Again, I'm a big fan and we need to move this forward. But I'm interested in what system they (and other cities that experiment with this) put in place to manage it all.

Either way, can't wait to see this arrive in my city. Working remotely, strong local walkable communities, ubiquitous public transport and automated ridesharing are strong candidates for the future, all of it electric and low-sound. That should increase traffic density, clean up cities from sound and pollution, make traffic safer and cheaper.

edit: another issue that comes up is demand-control. For example I currently have a 60-70% discount subscription but only if I travel outside of peak hours. That absolutely induces me to travel differently, e.g. leave home earlier or stay a bit longer at work or uni until I get my discount. Free public transport removes that instrument. There's a lot of talk nowadays about trying to change the 9 to 5 model to one that's spread out more. e.g. universities having an 11 to 7 model, some companies going 10 to 6. Part of that story is traffic management, and free public traffic throws out this instrument. It may also disincentivize cycling, to a small extent walking, and perhaps most importantly, wanting to live as close to the 'rest of the day' (work, school, friends) as possible to reduce costs.


Buses are a hard problem.

In the UK, most of the bus network was in public ownership until the 1980s. The Thatcher government deregulated the bus industry, allowing any operator to run bus services and set their own routes and timetables. This greatly increased the level of competition on popular and profitable routes, but it also created the problem of cherry-picking.

The new private operators didn't bother with unprofitable but socially-valuable routes, which local governments felt obliged to serve or subsidise. The most profitable routes often became massively oversaturated, with competing operators engaging in "bus wars" in an attempt to dominate that route and force out the other operators.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_deregulation_in_Great_Brit...


> The new private operators didn't bother with unprofitable but socially-valuable routes, which local governments felt obliged to serve or subsidise.

For what it's worth, local governments in the U.S. don't feel all that obligated. Just because something is public doesn't mean that it looks out for the little guy all that well.


Local governments often fail their poorest citizens, but unlike for-profit companies, they in principle exist to serve all of their citizens, not to line the pockets of their owners. Private companies neither have nor pretend any such mission.


How do you enforce that principle?


While it's far from flawless, that is the point of having a democratic process.


Right it's such an effective system it produced Donald Trump to take the role as the world's most important person.


What's your point? Would you prefer to be ruled by Jeff Bezos and the Walton family without the semblance of checks on their power?


Excellent generalization about the 89,004 local governments in the US. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/government...

Also, is your comparative perspective based on time living under multiple local UK governments, too?


Holy cow, it means 89 thousand different bus orders.


Rethink this.


No. I’ve actually lived in both.

Also, it appears(?) the parent comment to my initial comment was adjusted.


They deal with that nicely for railways, where if you want to operate some profitable lines, you're obliged to operate some infrequent lines too. Wonder why they did not do the same with the buses too.


I've never understood how railways can be privatised; it's a natural monopoly. I can't decide I want to compete with this rail line and build my own rail line (at least in most circumstances). And a London-Edinburgh line is not in competition with a London-Newcastle line.


I'm not from the UK so maybe I am mistaken but AFAIK the railways belong to the govt but they outsource the operation of them and of trains, stations etc. And if they limit operation times too (so that you get some certain amount of time then everybody bids), I think that is a good model.


This is how it works in Melbourne (actually, there is now a single company that runs the entire Metropolitan railway). Initially they split it into two companies each running half the city because competition. Because a train line on the east side of the city can compete with a train line on the west side. Now a single company runs both halves. I can't see how this is better than the government just running it.


I’m not sure it’s a feature that public transit agencies allow popular commuter routes to become ridiculously overcrowded by siphoning off the funds for fare subsidies and mostly-empty buses no one wants. My government for a while was clearly trying to shift the incentives to favor bus over car commuting, but half the time the bus was so full that the driver wouldn’t even let me try to get on. The agency was not out of money. Instead, it had spent the money on a new route from nowhere to nowhere that passed my apartment every 10 minutes and was consistently empty, while at the same time downsizing the vehicles used on commuter service.


How would you define socially valuable routes?


Elderly, parents who can't afford cars, are two big users of public transport. Enabling old people and the people raising the next generation to e.g. buy groceries and visit the doctor would normally be considered socially valuable.


The problem then is that those people don't have enough income, not that the price of buses to them is too high. If it's hard to provide the service to them, the price should be correspondingly higher to discourage use of the bus except when it would be efficient to use it. Yes, even by those protected classes. If they need it so desperately badly, that means they would be willing to pay the higher price. If there's simply no money in their budget to pay for it and we as a society judge their welfare to be lower than what we would like as a result, it means they need more money, not that the pricing system needs to be messed with.


>If it's hard to provide the service to them, the price should be correspondingly higher to discourage use of the bus except when it would be efficient to use it.

You've got the economics completely backwards. Running a bus route has a fixed cost; where the fares collected fall short of that cost, it may be necessary to subsidise that route. You actively want to encourage more people to use that route, because it reduces the level of subsidy necessary. People who find the route merely convenient help to fund the service for people who vitally need it.

Bus subsidies are often remarkably cheap on a per-journey basis, because the service would only be modestly unprofitable without the subsidy. Paying a few pennies per passenger to make a service profitable is vastly cheaper than paying for taxis to ferry all of those people to their destination.


At some point something like Uber pool must be more efficient.

Some smaller, more efficient buses should be also employed.


Market forces should serve society, not the other way around, and humane societies value more than simple efficiency.

If market forces aren't aligned with social values, it's sensible to use a different resource-allocation mechanism.


For the most part routes that connect people with people and routes outside of normal commuting hours.

This isn’t about socioeconomics if anything poor neighborhoods would have more people commuting via buses than richer ones that can afford petrol, parking and rail passes.

What bus operators like is predictable routes even if you fill only 4 busses between 8-9am and again between 5-6pm it’s a very good route because it’s bother predicable and that most of your users would likely buy seasonal tickets.

So essentially routes that connect people to places are very attractive but routes that connect people to people are not.

This means that there would be much fewer routes that connect neighborhoods directly especially within the same socioeconomic level which forces many people to change at a city center or at any other service hub to get to their destination.

This also affects commuting routes outside of rush hours and especially night buses.


If the bus company is owned by the government many of the issues you point to does not exist


That’s not true. Governments are not immune to market forces unless we’re talking about totalitarian planned economies.

Governments have limited resources and so they’ll focus and optimize their spending to maximize efficiency and the same reason a bus route would be unattractive to a for profit operator would likely force a non for profit one to direct their attention somewhere else.

The best way is usually forcing the for profit operators to bid on whole regions rather than individual routes and mandating minimum service levels across the board which would prevent operators from running a bus once a day and calling it a served route.

The only way in which a government run transportation provider would not experience this issue is if the people are aware of it and are willing to pay the extra money in taxes to cover the costs of running unprofitable routes and would actively lobby their governments to spend that extra money on exactly that which isn’t likely.


Those that serve poor neighborhoods?

Those that connect underserved communities?

Those that enabled the educational improvement of the population?


An example from my local area is a bus route connecting deprivedNeighbourhood with largeIndustrialSite, with the timetable arranged around the shift patterns of the employers on that site. It doesn't have enough passengers to be profitable, but most of the passengers would be unemployed if that route didn't exist.


> It doesn't have enough passengers to be profitable, but most of the passengers would be unemployed if that route didn't exist.

I highly doubt that. People carpool. NYC has dollar vans which serve underserved communities at lower cost than the state.

Providing subsidized bus routes to work is basically subsidizing employers who employ these people.


>I highly doubt that.

I can only assume that you've never been poor, because lack of transport is a massive obstacle for people struggling to get or stay on the bottom rung of the employment ladder. The world is a very different place if you're on the breadline - quite minor issues can become crises if you just don't have any spare money to fix them.

How do you get to the job interview if you can't afford a taxi? How do you carpool if you've only just started the job and don't know anyone who works there? What do you do if your shift pattern changes and you can't get a ride any more? What do you do if the person giving you a ride quits or gets fired? What do you do if they lose their license for drink-driving or their crappy old car breaks down?

If there was a private bus operator ("dollar van") serving that route, the local authority wouldn't have to subsidise it.

>Providing subsidized bus routes to work is basically subsidizing employers who employ these people.

Yes, but what's so wrong with that? Running a subsidised bus route is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying unemployment benefits and dealing with the social costs of long-term unemployment. It'd be nice if those companies were willing to pay for it, but they clearly aren't.

Place A has a lot of unemployed people with low skills. Place B has a lot of low-skilled jobs. There's no public transport between place A and place B, so a lot of those unemployed people can't get to those jobs. Is it really so irrational for the local government to solve that problem?


I don't disagree that life is hard when you are poor, I think you're just not giving enough credit to the resourcefulness of people. People don't just roll over and die when you don't provide everything, they find ways to resolve their issues.

> If there was a private bus operator ("dollar van") serving that route, the local authority wouldn't have to subsidise it.

This assumes the government isn't actively trying to shut them down because they're unlicensed and the licensing system is excessive.

> Place A has a lot of unemployed people with low skills. Place B has a lot of low-skilled jobs. There's no public transport between place A and place B, so a lot of those unemployed people can't get to those jobs. Is it really so irrational for the local government to solve that problem?

I think this situation with a bunch of people sitting around unemployed because they can't get a ride and then suddenly getting jobs because you add an (unprofitable, i.e. underutilized) bus route is a contrived example.

I also think you would probably do better by subsidizing these people directly (e.g. through transport vouchers or just direct payments), rather than having the local government running an unprofitable route.


>I don't disagree that life is hard when you are poor, I think you're just not giving enough credit to the resourcefulness of people. People don't just roll over and die when you don't provide everything, they find ways to resolve their issues.

That's a really weak excuse for not helping people in need. The continued existence of unemployment, poverty, bankruptcy and suicide demonstrate that some people don't find ways to resolve their issues.

>This assumes the government isn't actively trying to shut them down because they're unlicensed and the licensing system is excessive.

My original comment was in the context of the UK. I have no idea what the situation in the US, but it's incredibly straightforward to legally start a bus route over here. To start a local route, the only significant administrative hurdle is a ten-page form and a £60 ($80) application fee. It's entirely feasible for a small company to open a new route with one vehicle.

>I think this situation with a bunch of people sitting around unemployed because they can't get a ride and then suddenly getting jobs because you add an (unprofitable, i.e. underutilized) bus route is a contrived example.

It definitely isn't. Here are some case studies to prove it:

https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/file...

>I also think you would probably do better by subsidizing these people directly (e.g. through transport vouchers or just direct payments), rather than having the local government running an unprofitable route.

We already do that through a variety of means, but other transport options can be prohibitively expensive to support and there is a very significant administrative burden associated with means-tested benefits. Subsidising a bus route can be quite inexpensive on a per-journey basis, because the local authority only needs to cover the shortfall between fare revenue and the cost of running the service. Subsidised bus schemes can also provide broader benefits in terms of access to healthcare and social inclusion - a subsidised bus taking a low-income worker to their job may also take a young mother to a doctor's appointment, an elderly person to a social club and a disabled person to the shops.


I had a look at your case study pdf, and I'm not really seeing it as strong support; there was a quote about lack of transport to work, followed directly by:

> Obviously, Cornwall is a rural county and more likely to experience poorer levels of public transport provision. In the Walsall study, which is clearly more representative of conditions in an inner-urban area, one officer felt that it was less to do with the lack of transport provision and more to do with people’s willingness to travel outside the immediate area

The next section which sites lack of links from areas of "high unemployment to key employment sites" is also talking about Cornwall again.

I actually like public transport, I just think your initial comment was an exaggeration.


> Providing subsidized bus routes to work is basically subsidizing employers who employ these people.

I will be very surprised if you can point to any prominent public figure who wants to slash publish transportation but also wants to increase the minimum wage or provide more welfare or whatever alternate means of helping the poor you feel wouldn't be an employer subsidy.


More importantly - those that connect people at unpopular times. Everybody wants to serve rush hour. Nobody wants to do early morning or late night routes that are as important. Otherwise people drive drunk, walk unsafe routes (e.g. on highway)... Or just have simple social life that ends at the single local bar.


they should redesign the whole lines so that they have to most coverage. so that people on average are around 500m walk from the nearest bus stop, and also making sure stop aren't too close so busses don't make too many stops.


Most US bus systems have a strong bias towards coverage and are learning that utilization gets better if they instead discard coverage in favor of frequency. Having a bus stop nearby isn’t worthwhile if it comes once an hour. Those people will drive anyway. Better to provide an actually compelling alternative to a subset of the city than a worthless alternative to all of it.


I think coverage would promote frequency, you don't have to go down every street, just enough blocks away for everyone.


> The new private operators didn't bother with unprofitable but socially-valuable routes, which local governments felt obliged to serve or subsidise.

That's exactly how it should be. A lot of people have the idea that bus operators should be forced to drive the unprofitable routes in order to be allowed to drive the profitable ones. This would work if buses were literally the only way to get around. Since they are not, what it does is drive up the cost of public transport and make it less appealing. In Finland, it eventually caused the prices to rise so high, that it was generally cheaper to drive. This is socially disastrous.

If there is a route that is not profitable to run, you should not expect a company to run it. The free market should manage the profitable routes, and drive down the prices as low as they can go. Any socially valuable routes on top of those should be subsidized out of the taxes of the people they provide value to.


1. Bus passengers are not rational actors in the free market. They'll get on the first available. In routes with multiple services consumers will prefer to just buy a ticket like 'system one' in Manchester. 2. Frequency and reliability of service on a long term encourages take up. London has Overground trains run every 15 minutes regardless of user take up. Bus companies can't or won't offer service like that. 3. Bus users are poorer. Those of us who can afford to opt out of the market do so. That encourages decline. Externalities like air pollution, community access for the elderly are left to local government despite lack of political will or capital.

Essentially I believe public transport should be encouraged as a common good that pays dividends in society as a whole.


> 1. Bus passengers are not rational actors in the free market. They'll get on the first available.

Strongly disagree. That may be true if there is no good way of getting information, but once there is a website/app that lets you enter your source, destination and departure time, and which clearly lists all the options with their prices, people do effectively shop around and make rational choices about their routes. This has been shown to work pretty well in Finland.


Not anywhere else I know, and I've lived in many places. 99% of the time people get on the first bus that arrives. Only if it's their commute bus might they look at times and prices. The free market really doesn't work well with public transport, as shown by the mess that is our train system (UK).


The UK train system isn't exactly a free market. The trains and tracks are all owned by the government. The government also decides who gets the contract to operate trains.


True, but I don't see how you can have a "free market" on a train track otherwise. You've got to schedule trains, you can't have them coming and going as the market reorganises. And there's little possibility of choice, there's usually only one reasonable route to get somewhere, people don't want to add 6 hours of their journey time, to go via an alternative route.


There are competing operators in various places in Europe, the UK included.

The clearest example is probably Hamburg-Köln-Express in Germany, which operates trains that take around the same time as the state-owned incumbent (DB Fernverkehr), but on older rolling stock for a lower price.

The hard part is "how do you divide up the capacity on the infrastructure", but this is a problem that has clearly existed throughout the EU since 2007 (when there's been open access freight operators), though has in reality existed much longer (most international services, for example) hence track access and allocation being the subject of an EU directive all the way back in 1995.


And another issue if you subsidise pensioners etc the bus companies adjust their routes and times to suit that demographic and also increase the fares for all the other which sucks if say your a cleaner who works in the evening.


Let me debunk that for you.

We want a system optimized for transportation. We do not want a system optimized for wealth extraction.

Say someone is buying a house. He will look for the stuff he needs. If they have kids that have to go to school or if they cant drive for some reason they look at the bus and train schedule and kinda expect that service to be there the next month.

How you imagine it actually doesn't happen. You don't get a substantial number of people with kids, old and disabled people moving to an area without public transport so that you can move in for the killer profits. Even if there is a bus it would be unreliable if profit rather than transportation is the goal.

Its just like we don't wait until the entire region smells like human poop before we put the sewers in. Oh and no more internet and electricity for you! You are just not using enough of it to be relevant compared to urban centers!

Meanwhile in the already overly crowded city centers real estate prices will explode and force families to live in tiny single room apartments. From a strict profit driven perspective utopia is now happening!


> Let me debunk that for you.

Then why not debunk something I said instead of going off on a weird tangent that is orthogonal to it?

> We want a system optimized for transportation. We do not want a system optimized for wealth extraction.

Agreed.

> Say someone is buying a house. He will look for the stuff he needs. If they have kids that have to go to school or if they cant drive for some reason they look at the bus and train schedule and kinda expect that service to be there the next month.

Agreed.

> How you imagine it actually doesn't happen. You don't get a substantial number of people with kids, old and disabled people moving to an area without public transport so that you can move in for the killer profits. Even if there is a bus it would be unreliable if profit rather than transportation is the goal.

Who spoke anything about killer profits? To put it simply, in my proposal any place that could be a competitive market would be one (so profits are driven as low as possible), while any place that could not be would be subsidized. Regardless, this is entirely orthogonal to my point.

What I railed against was the idea that public transport in areas with lots of demand should subsidize public transport in areas with low demand. This is an absolutely terrible idea, whether your public transport system is private or government-ran. It's bad, because it drives the cost of public transport up, and unless you ban private cars, it therefore also drives the incentive to use public transport down and the incentive to use a car up.

Instead, since we want to optimize for transportation, we should drive the cost of public transport as low as possible. Especially in areas with high demand, simply because as they have more people, they matter more in reducing emissions and traffic. And do note that as low as possible will be lower in areas of high demand than in areas of low demand. For this task, I propose using an open, competitive market. You might like a government-ran system better. I think either approach might work, although I prefer my version because it is less fragile. The important part is that not a penny of the fare prices paid by people in high-demand areas should go to subsidizing service to people living in low-demand areas.

Because having public transport in those low-demand areas is also socially good, any areas where a competitive market cannot work should probably have subsidized public transport. However, that subsidy should not come from other public transport, because that makes public transport worse where it matters and makes people drive cars instead, making traffic and pollution worse. If you look at my original post, I proposed subsidizing it from taxation.

Have I now repeated my point enough times that you have understood it? I'd have repeated myself less, but I thought it necessary since if you actually had bothered to go read my original post, instead of ad-libbing your favorite strawman on it, this entire post would not have been necessary.


The thing is, private transit has an incentive to go anywhere there's sufficient density of people. If buses don't want to go somewhere, it's probably because there aren't enough people to justify it there, which can be solved with zoning.

Sometimes there are other issues too, like too much crime, but even then there's still something for the government to solve that would make it profitable for private transit.


Yes, and it should be this way for everything (bus routes, train lines, water, sewer, electricity, telecom, etc). The government should be the safety net, not the primary provider.


The market does take care of this. No one builds the second sewerage system or railway on the same route, it’s a terrible investment. The first mover gets a monopoly, price gouging happens, public complains and the government steps in. Currently we have private water companies in the U.K. they don’t have their own pipes and they are supplying the same water at nearly the same price, the actual water is provided by another private water company which owns the pipes and has a monopoly which has to be heavily regulated by the government. The result is choice of 10 different companies which charge between say £995-£1005 for the same thing, it’s not an efficient use of my time @ £60/hr to deal with the phone calls and paperwork needed to choose a supplier, it feels like I’m being forced to take part in a stupid game making a purchasing decision for something which is essentially exactly the same regardless of who I buy it from. The trouble is that infrastructure is often a natural monopoly. Countries that provide thier citizens efficient hassle free infrastructure increase thier productivity relative to other countries by reducing the bureaucratic load on citizens. Britain has private trains, electricity, water, phone networks etc. It doesn’t seem to be working very well, for example our rail ticket prices have increased faster than the rest of Europe, our train operating costs per mile are higher than state run systems in other comparable countries. In general our productivity is pretty low compared to other similar countries in Europe despite working some of the longest hours, maybe all the stupid phone calls from utility companies are one of the reasons why.


As far as odd times (3am, for example) and odd locations: Yes, the government should include these. I've worked many jobs that would fall outside of normal route times at night (when I've had access to busses, that is). Weekends, late nights, early starts. These jobs range from nurses aides to pharmacy workers to fast food to retail to factory work. Many are low-paying, but some aren't.

If people cannot get to and from their jobs, especially folks working low-paying jobs, in a timely manner, it works against the goals of public transport.

Now, there are other good points to having odd hours: Getting drunk folks home, enjoyment of city life when city life is happening, and so on.

As far as the competing companies, they probably would bid to run the bus system in an area for x years. Overlap might be an issue otherwise.


More than that, I have a member of staff that can only work 9-5 because those are the only hours that the bus routes service. They really want to start earlier and finish earlier but can't. More out of hours services would allow people more scope to work different hours and travel off peak.


I believe such service should be bookable, ala Uber pool.

Just running buses empty isn't smart.

You'd be excluding few percent who still can't or wouldn't own a smartphone tho.


Even in most places that have private public transport, either there is a local monopoly or near monopoly. It's very rare to be able to pick which carrier you want for a particular route.


And the places where you can pick your carrier are typically also the ones where people complain about the ticketing complexities.


People who use choice to their advantage like the competition. Lazy people don't.

That's fine, until the Lazy people conspire to take away the choice from the rest of us.

In the UK, we have people complaining about the price of power, however all you have to do is visit a site like uswitch.com, put in your details, and save hundreds, yet millions of people haven't done that, instead spending their energy complaining about the prices.

The same with transport -- there's half a dozen ways to travel from say Edinburgh to London, including Planes, Train (multiple operators), Car, Taxi and Coaches. They all have pros and cons.

But because people can't be bothered to either look up different options themselves, or go somewhere like trainsplit.com, there is a lot of pressure to "remove loopholes" like break of journey, split ticketing, slower but cheaper trains, etc, meaning those of us who do travel cheaply will lose out, because a few selfish lazy people can't be bothered to visit a website.


> But because people can't be bothered to either look up different options themselves, or go somewhere like trainsplit.com, there is a lot of pressure to "remove loopholes" like break of journey, split ticketing, slower but cheaper trains, etc, meaning those of us who do travel cheaply will lose out, because a few selfish lazy people can't be bothered to visit a website

No. When you're planning a journey from London to Edinburgh you should be able to go to the national rail journey planner and get the cheapest ticket, the shortest travel time, and then first class options on top.

http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/

You shouldn't need to go to a separate website to include weird options like split tickets, broken journeys, or alternate routes. These should all be built into the system.

The reason these weird options exist is because the UK train ticketing system is so stupidly complicated.


The reality is that you'll go there, get the same choices as now, but those willing to do some research, or have more advanced requirements (say go Edinburgh to London, then come back via an overnight stop in Birmingham, and another one in Preston before going back to Edinburgh) will lose out.

Prices for you aren't going to come down, but those of use that know what they're doing will lose out.


The thing is, the majority of journeys aren't like that. Right now, the majority lose out to cater for people with your travel habits. The system should cater for the majority first, who don't have time to look through terms and conditions to work out the cheapest prices.

Also, people want to get from A to B the quickest. Taking longer, and possibly slower alternative routes is absolutely not an option, considering how our trains are already slow compared to most other nations anyway.


How do the majority lose out?

> Also, people want to get from A to B the quickest

Clearly that's not right. Some people want to travel the quickest. Some want to travel the cheapest. Some want to travel in the most comfortable way.

(OK everyone wants to travel at 125mph non stop from their local station to their destination, with a service every 5 minutes, for free. These changes aren't going to do that, they'll simply remove the choices that people have, and removing choice gives no benefit to the traveling public.)


I should have probably clarified, unless you're taking the train for fun, no one is going to divert for 6+ hours to get a cheaper ticket. I'm a student, none of us would, we'd just take the coach. We look to Europe and see how they have cheap, quick, comfortable, reliable trains, and then we look at ours...

As multiple people have pointed out you seem to live in a dreamworld where everyone can sit down and work out pricing, and doesn't mind going slower or less comfortably. But here's a thought, what if it's possible to have all of those things at a reasonable price? That's the aim of such changes, by removing shareholders all profits can go back into improvements, just look at TfL. Travelling in London, while not 100% awesome, is still miles better than the rest of the country.

I'm at uni in exeter, it's sometimes cheaper to fly from Yorkshire down there than take the train, that is absolutely ridiculous.

You're the exception, not the rule my friend.


Sure you're not going to do 6+ hours. However you may choose to take the 2h30 train rather than the 1h30 train to save 30%. We did this a few months ago when we went on a break to London.

Most european countries spend far more per passenger-mile in subsidies for the rail network. This would allow cheaper tickets, but that would mean more students taking the train instead of the coach, and therefore even less room. Until we build more infrastructure we can't sensibly reduce ticket prices.

The changes in discussion now are nothing to do with removing shareholders, it's about 'simplifying' the tickets. This will cause 1% of passengers to pay £50 more, and 99% of passengers to pay 50p less, all because that 99% value their time over buying their tickets from someone other than 'thetrainline' (which saves £1 a ticket straight up)

However if you do remove shareholders, you'll save about 3% on the price of train tickets -- i.e. they'll cost the same next year that they do today. Whoppee.

I went to Exeter Uni, I drove down from Warrington. The train is expensive, but the reason for that is that crosscountry trains are massively overcrowded, and the decision not to run longer trains on crosscountry routes is down to the government, not to Arriva (or whoever runs crosscountry)

Last time I took the train to the south west I chose to travel on ATW and FGW rather than Cross Country.

However if I were going to travel Leeds to Exeter tomorrow, I would go to 'trainsplit.com', type "Leeds", "Exeter", and select the date, and within 30 seconds find a fare for £62.61 (including the fee for using the service)

Now if you were to buy it at the station it would cost £153, which is silly.

Banning split ticketing ("simplifying") will not drop the price Renationalising the rail network may drop that price to £148

The reason that "simplifying" tickets and "removing anomolies" is again in the news is because more and more people are doing it, and this is harming profits.


I'm not sure how you lose out.

All those travel options are still there. But now instead of paying something (but a bit less than other people) you're paying nothing (the same as everyone else).

I don't see how losing your cheaper price is a disadvantage if you're now paying nothing.

People who like obscure routing hacks can still optimise for stuff - quicker trains, more scenic journeys, nice rolling stock, not Virgin.


>all you have to do is visit a site like uswitch.com, put in your details, and save hundreds

So .. how exactly do the savings come about? The electricity comes from the same power stations. You're not buying it on the spot market. Literally the only thing the power companies do is billing. The only way they make a profit is through confusing pricing and market inertia.

As someone else said, spending ages getting cheap tickets is only free if your time is worthless.


Currently you can spend a little time and make savings, and that's great. You don't like the customer service, you can vote with your wallet. You prefer to pay a premium for a fixed price for the next 2 years rather than gamble on the energy market, that's fine. You want money to be funneled to renewables, even if the price per unit is more expensive, that's fine.


I missed your power price comparison point earlier.

It's not true that it's as simple as putting numbers in a price comparison website because energy companies use bafflement pricing.

We know they use bafflement pricing because we need Tariff Comparison Rates so people can compare.

Ignoring for a moment that some tenants can't change; some can change but are told they can't; some people in debt or on prepayment meters can't change; people with some smart meters have limited options; (this list is quite a few people who can't change) we are left with people who need to work out if they need cheap price per unit (but with a large standing order charge), or cheap standing order charge with a higher price per unit.

The other two reasons we know it's not easy to switch are 1) OFGEM has to regulate the price comparison websites to prevent poor behaviour and 2) most people never switch.

(I find it annoying g you've been downvoted. You're making points in good faith and not being rude.)


People have better things to do than to minmax individual trips. They generally prefer being able to hop on the next train than to save a small amount of money.


And that's entirely their choice

However I strongly suspect you're wrong -- people choose cheaper tickets all the time, they book specific trains in advance and they travel at non-business times of the day ("off-peak"), and they choose cheaper services (say 'virgin only' from Crewe to Manchester, rather than 'any permitted')

This is good -- it allows you to make choices. Why would you want to take those choices away?


> However I strongly suspect you're wrong -- people choose cheaper tickets all the time, they book specific trains in advance

We are talking urban transit here and not advance bookable trains. If given the choice of a 20% cheaper ticket but half the trains people would take the more frequent service.

Why take the choice away? Because more operators means fewer trains/busses/trams per operator as the infrastructure is generally limited. So in urban areas shared ticketing is what customers prefer.


> We are talking urban transit here and not advance bookable trains

"The same with transport -- there's half a dozen ways to travel from say Edinburgh to London"

That's not urban transport.

> Why take the choice away? Because more operators means fewer trains/busses/trams per operator as the infrastructure is generally limited. So in urban areas shared ticketing is what customers prefer.

In well run urban areas (like London) the competition comes from providers bidding to run the service, but the actual specification of the service including the conditions and ticketing, are done by the local authority. There are multiple bus operators in London, but most people don't realize that.

The day to day choice comes down to choosing Bus vs Tube vs Bike vs Uber vs Taxi.

In poorly run areas (like Manchester), the on-bus competition rarely exists, and when it does tickets aren't interchangable.

> If given the choice of a 20% cheaper ticket but half the trains people would take the more frequent service.

Some people would. You and I would, because we're highly paid IT professionals. Others wouldn't -- hence the reason that where direct commuting services do compete (say Milton Keynes to London), some buy flexible tickets, others buy "Virgin only" ones to save 15%.


That's laughable considering peak times are... uh... peak. Transport is primarily for commutes, which happen at the same time everyday. I don't have the option of off-peak. And if you have a simplified, non-free market system, tickets are cheaper, and there's no need for choice. The only reason we have choice is because successive governments have believed it's possible to allow multiple companies to deliver the same service over the same infrastructure.


Board the 1840 Euston to Manchester ('peak time'), you'll find it about 30-50% full

Board the 1900 or 1920 ('off peak') and it's standing room only.

Transport is not 'primarilly for commuters'. There are very few commuters traveling from Warrington to London.

You're taking your corner case (local commuting on a metro style service) and applying it to the network as a whole. This is a failing. However you still have a choice. I used to commute from Leighton Buzzard to London. I could either

1) Take the London Midland service into Euston and tube on (most frequent, least comfortable, slightly faster) 2) Take the Southern service to Shepherds Bush and walk (less frequent, more comfortable, slightly slower) 3) Take the commuter bus (slower, far cheaper, less frequent) 4) Drive (slower, cheaper than the train, more hassle)

When we were both doing 5 days a week we took the train, as it was less hastle. When we dropped to 3 days a week we drove, as it was far cheaper.

Commuter tickets are already massively subsidized (35% discount for being a commuter traveling from Guildford to London for example vs a one off trip), I hope those are got rid of when they get rid of break of journey. That will allow large scale price cuts across the network.


Public monopoly is usually run by local government. Which turns local elections into a transit market :)


Public transport in a lot of Europe is publicly owned/run. Standards aren't maintained by market competition, but by politics.


I don't know about the rest of European countries but in Sweden the regional governments purchase the service from private companies for a fixed price over a 4 year contract. Every time the contract is up for renewal they ask for bids from all eligible companies so there is competition to place the lowest price based on requirements.


We have this in the UK, at least for trains. Companies just end up bidding the lowest, knowing there's no way they can provide a reasonable service at that price. They then cut back on trains and quality, and eventually the contracts are cancelled.


The complete fucking fiasco that new thameslink bidder is a good (bad) example and good only knows its doing to the Siemens brand due to the crappy cheap trains they have brought from them.

The Uk system is also skewed by the bidders also having to say how much £ they will return to the government.

I used actual swear words because it is that bad


From what I can tell, something similar happens in Norway.

If I recall correctly, the city busses, airport transportation busses, and the long-distance busses are different companies (or at least theoretically can be). The taxis are another company altogether.


True, but it gradually consolidates with time. There used to be several city bus companies here in Bergen, then just two, then they merged into one. Municipality was major stakeholder in both and encouraged the merger. City tram is a separate company but also owned by the municipality.

Taxis are a different story, most of them are private franchizes and it's working pretty well. Part of the reason ridesharing services were unable to gain any foothold here I believe.


This seems to be an uninformed statement, I have to say after reading some of the already existing replies and what I know about one of the largest markets:

Germany's railway (DB - Deutsche Bahn) has been privatized and they make a profit on long-distance high-speed routes. Local routes are purchases service from a variety of smaller local train companies that sprung up, and also from DB. Ticketing can be very messy, and you have to read the small print to know where some special applies. For example, some regional ticket (one or two states) may restrict you to certain providers and routes.


> Germany's railway (DB - Deutsche Bahn) has been privatized

This… isn't true.

Deutsche Bahn AG is a private company, yes, but its 100% owned by the federal government.

> they make a profit on long-distance high-speed routes

DB Fernverkehr AG (the long-distance subsidiary) do this by operating them on an entirely commercial basis: they make a profit in part because they only run services that are profitable. The same is true of the companies competing on long-distance services (which are admittedly relatively few and far between, undoubtedly in part because of the huge start-up costs).

> Local routes are purchases service from a variety of smaller local train companies that sprung up, and also from DB.

Here's where it gets complicated: this depends on the state (within Germany) and how they arrange public transport. The primary services are typically put out to tender (and how differs between the states) and these aren't necessarily run by DB (through its Regio subsidiary) as DB Regio has lost a number of bids.

At the same time, even on track, there's far more competition when it comes to profitable routes, as various local train companies as you mention have started competing.


> Deutsche Bahn AG is a private company, yes, but its 100% owned by the federal government.

Which does not change the fact that it's been made into a private company, and that their mission is profit. Ever since that happened we've been hearing it in the news whenever they announced their results, apparently the whole country, or at least media and the government care very much about it. So they are not like a government agency at all, they really are a business.

So OPs statement is not true, competition (on the local routes) and profitability very much drive DB. That was my point, in the context of the comment I replied to.


OK, to me it being a private company doesn't in and of itself imply that: a private company generally acts in the interests of its shareholders, and when the sole shareholder of a company is the state, it doesn't necessarily follow the primary interest is profit (see many of the various companies wholly held by the UK Government for example, Network Rail being an apt one here).


As I said, the DB's mission is profit. That is what they make a big fuss about every year, and according to all news reports since making it a company that is what their CEO is meant to look after first of all even if it means worse service. You can see that in the discussion of preceding years that maintenance was neglected and too much "optimization" (e.g. work force size) was done so that they now frequently run into problems. It's all been discussed in German media for years.


Or, if its operated by a private company, things like prices or routes are regulated and set by the government.


I support this too. Cars are death to cities.

But your points are valid. One approach would be the good old market. Give people x amount to spend on transport and let them decide how to use it.

When I had parking cashout in Santa Monica early in my career I loved the extra $2500 a month in my paycheck, and starting my day with a bike ride.

Of course, this only works if, every road is tolled high enough to account for the negative externalities of driving (pollution, people killed while walking, cycling, motorcycling, etc., noise, the end of the North Atlantic Meridional Overturning circulation causing northern Europe to be nearly uninhabitable in winter.. so on and so forth), and of course, to build/maintain/police it.


I agree that cars are not good for cities. When I was in S. Korea few years ago, I got to visit a newer apartment complex, with dozens of 20 - 30 stories tall apartment buildings. One important feature the builder/architect added is underground parking for all cars of visitors/residents. The entrance to the parking lot is right next to the street.

There are roads within the complex for Fire/emergency/moving-trucks, but no other cars are allowed onto the ground of the complex. So there are no cars driving around within the complex.

Not having to worry about dodging cars or dealing with car-noise/engine-exhaust-smell all combined to make the quality of life so much better. With some grass and greenery planted, walking within the complex felt like walking on a hiking trail. And this is in the of a huge apartment complex with thousands of units.


Sorry - that's $2500 a year, of course.


> How do five bussing companies compete if there's no revenue model.

Why would they need five bussing companies when one suffices? They might not even need the one, the government could run it.


Because then there would be no competition, and bus drivers would clock out early leaving people stranded with no repercussions.

As someone living in America I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live somewhere you can trust the government to run something like public transit. This is the on time performance of the Amtrak I’d take to work if it was ever on time: https://juckins.net/amtrak_status/archive/html/history.php?t....


Amtrak doesn't own the rails, so the delays are not their fault (freight gets priority), but I would hesitate to take Amtrak because of asset forfeiture.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/05/how-the...


Amtrak owns the rails on this segment (Boston to DC).


There's also MARC and Washington Metro service from that station. Is that also as unreliable as Amtrak? Why would you just choose to take Amtrak to DC when you have two better options there?

The delays there are poor but train 111 departs from NY so has a long time to get delayed en route to that station. It's not a classic example of a commuter train.


> There's also MARC and Washington Metro service from that station. Is that also as unreliable as Amtrak? Why would you just choose to take Amtrak to DC when you have two better options there?

Because my tax dollars are paying for it (Amtrak receives about $1.4 billion in subsidies each year) and I expect it to run as scheduled. Being an inter-city service is no excuse--Germany, Japan, etc., manage to run timely intercity train service.

Metro is a disaster. According to WMATA, the 26-minute scheduled trip from NCR to Federal Triangle takes me on average 37 minutes (about 50% over schedule). That's for a service that starts at NCR.

MARC is the least bad option (only about 5 minutes late on average) but it's typically standing-room-only at NCR.


Why would bus drivers "clock out". And why is competition necessary? You're running a bus, not building cars or selling clothes. Public transport doesn't have major room to inovate, so there's not really a need, and more companies confuses what should be a simple situation. One route, one bus service.

The government here runs the tube (TfL) and it's fairly good, a lot better than the privately run stuff elsewhere in the country. I come from Yorkshire, where we have "Northern Rail" which is usually the butt of most jokes about our country's infrastructure...


> Why would bus drivers "clock out".

Because they're lazy and irresponsible. But its impossible to fire them because of the public unions.

> And why is competition necessary?

Because at least a private company can go out of business and be replaced by something else.

> The government here runs the tube (TfL)

TfL is run in a much more "corporate" manner than public transit in the U.S. For example, it covers almost 100% of its operating costs, while U.S. transit systems are massive black holes for tax money.

I think one of the things that Europeans don't realize is that its not like Americans are choosing between private companies and European-style public services. No public service in the U.S. is run like what I see when I travel to Germany or Japan. The NYC subway and DC subway were historically the two best, and both are currently in a state of meltdown (despite being very well funded systems in overwhelmingly Democratic areas).

Americans choose between the private sector (which leaves a lot of people without service, no doubt), and a rapacious corrupt public sector that spends several times as much money to offer shittier service than what you have in Europe. (E.g. despite running almost identical systems, the NYC Subway spends twice as much per passenger trip as the Tube).


> I think one of the things that Europeans don't realize is that its not like Americans are choosing between private companies and European-style public services.

Estonia is in Europe.


Wouldn't the sensible repercussion in that case be the bus driver gets fired for terrible performance?


Yes, and that is exactly what would happen. Bus drivers in the EU as a rule are reasonably responsible people. They also have to have special licenses to be allowed to transport passengers.


Public company would be owned by local government. Or private company contract would make local government responsible for keeping it on a short leash. Great topic to fuck up your opponents in local elections.


> For example it may make sense to charge more for luxurious buses

Which transit system with a subscription model does that? We have a year ticket in Vienna and since that is a flatrate you can already not do that.


Don’t most countries have first class and second class train service while they also have flat rate subscriptions? The subscription for first class is just more expensive.


Here we're talking about urban transportation, it's fairly rare to have different class of service.


Dubai has first class in the metro. You can either buy a first or second class pass.


Cape Town has first-class and second-class carriages in its municipal rail.


There's a single company running the routes and it's owned by the city: http://www.tallinnlt.ee/en/about-the-company/about-tallinna-...


Very good points.

Some partial answers/comments (my 0.02):

1) You can measure competing bus companies by revenues, or in the case of Estonia by other metrics (e.g. number of rides (assuming you can track passengers, perhaps with cell phone apps), satisfaction, "on schedule" rides, transportation coverage).

2) I actually don't believe that buses are the right type of public transportation, going forward. There's a chance that it will be cheaper to offer self-driving cars instead. I am not too optimistic about driverless cars "time to market", however you can constraint the complexity of the problem if you have a) Fixed routes, and b) specific vehicles / sensors (e.g. how to deal with snow in Estonia), paired with a great maintenance service (again, if the government can provide an SLA on snow removal, you can assume that as a reduction in complexity).


The counter argument is that removing travel costs makes other market forces (competition in shopping, accommodation and employment) more active at the low end where travel costs matter more (and travel time less)


Maybe it would be better if the government gave everyone $XX/mo transit credit so the market forces remain intact. Obviously, the downside is it may no longer be free for everyone, but maybe it’s a good trade off to avoid complacency


you replace monolithic BUS companies, with driver recruiting companies and bus servicing companies.


Don't forget electric scooters!


Yup, will definitely be a big part of the story!

Not sure I'm a big fan myself. They sort of sit between bicycles and electric mini cars. [0] The cars are safer and allow easy multi-passengers, groceries, long-distance, all weather conditions, intercity travel. Bicycles are cheap, good for your health, nimble, safe on dedicated cycling infrastructure (see the Netherlands).

Scooters take the best but also the worst from both. They're low-effort and relatively high-speed compared to bicycles, but nimble and relatively cheap compared to cars. But they're also relatively expensive compared to bicycles, have poor weather conditions of bicycles and are relatively unsafe and can't do intercity trips or grocery runs as easily as cars. They also aren't really suited for automation, and I feel they're less suited for ridesharing, but it's not easy to identify exactly why that is.

I kind of feel every scooter ride is better off either as a bicycle ride or car ride, assuming you have these ubiquitous self-driving car2go 'travel pods' you could call em, and assuming you have nice cycling infrastructure. (I have a very European/Dutch perspective on this, outside cyclist-friendly cities I'd much rather have an electric scooter. But as a city I'd rather promote different infrastructure choices than scooters.)

[0] https://www.car2go.com/media/data/germany/stuttgart/stuttgar...


I think you have this wrong. Moped type scooters match your description, the new wave of light electric scooters sits more between walking and bicycles.

Compared to bicycles they’re smaller, so easier to maneuver in crowded spaces (not that you should be riding them on the sidewalk for instance, but on a mixed use bike path or something they’re actually slightly less disruptive to pedestrians than bikes) but also slightly scarier if you have to use on a street with no bike lane. They’re lighter so easier to pick up and move, they’re more one-size fits all than bikes are so better for renting. They can go faster than a slow cyclist but the max speed, at least of the ones we have today, is slower than a moderate to fast cyclist. Plus you’re not sweating when you get to your destination which is the main reason I prefer it for a short commute over biking.

The downsides vs biking are that it’s less comfortable and worse for longer distances, and you don’t get any exercise if that’s part of the biking equation for you.

So no, every scooter ride is not better as a bicycle ride. It’s a new form of lightweight transportation with its own strengths and weaknesses, and the nice thing is it fits very well into existing bike infrastructure so there’s no reason to have to choose between which to support.


I have to say that (what seem to be increasing numbers relative to prior visits of) mopeds in the bike lanes in Amsterdam seemed like a bit of a scary combination. I was curious enough to look it up and apparently mopeds are now supposed to stay to the roads but apparently no one pays attention to that.


That's starting in 2019, not yet the case. Law will take effect in january probably, and then by summer the switch should be made.


I think we are talking different scooters, I'm not talking about moped. I' talking like Xiaomi, Ninebot, e-Micro.

Cheaper than bikes, low effort, high speed, nimble, shopping limited to a back pack, bad in weather. Less weight, less space and less dangerous than bikes.


Ah yeah, misunderstood.

It's quite interesting, I grew up in a cycling city/country. Sometimes we see reports of my countrymen going abroad to consult other cities in the US, Africa, Asia etc to go cyclist-first, and a key issue pops up is that of convincing people on the image aspects I never considered. i.e., jumping on a bicycle in a place like Cairo just means you're poor and low-class and a self-respecting salaried person wouldn't do it. I always understood that even though I never experienced any such thoughts myself due to growing up in a cyclist culture.

I feel a bit like that with scooters. I mean I'm young, a student, I'd ride them. But as silly and self conscious as it sounds, I probably wouldn't in my 30s, 40s or 50s. I wouldn't take one to work and I'd feel weird about showing up at my gf or friends on one or walking around with a folded one. I now know what it feels like when people say these things about cyclists.

It's hard for me to shape an opinion on adoption. Is it one of those things where if the infrastructure etc is good enough, everyone will do it. (e.g. cycling in Amsterdam, all ages, genders, ethnicities and classes cycle, although there is a bit of an ethnic divide). Or if it's one of those things where generally 30+ year olds will just never use scooters in substantial numbers in most countries.


I would have said they are less stable and more likely to crash on hitting a pot hole.

A simple look at the geometry of a scooter (the small wheeled kids type not a vespa or c90) vs a bike will tell you that.

Let a lone the better and safer breaking you have on a bike vs an electric scooter


You'd be surprised on the breaking. Because of the low mass and ability to jump off and put your feet down you can stop quite quickly. Potholes on the other hand are more challenging than a bike, so you need to watch. That said, your top speed is significantly less than a bike, so its less of an issue.


It’d be great if we could forget them, actually. Paris is filled with them; they take space everywhere and a lot of people don’t drive properly because you don’t need a licence. A lot of buildings have spaces for bikes, but scooters must be left in the streets. They damage sidewalks they’re (illegally) left on due to a high weight on a small surface.


They damage sidewalks they’re (illegally) left on due to a high weight on a small surface.

That sounds suspect. Taking the example of a model used by one of the rent service in Paris, the Gogoro Smartscooter, that weighs 122Kg (incl. batteries), or 61Kg/tire. In comparison, a car like the Renault Zoe weighs almost 1500Kg, or 375Kg/tire. I know that bike tires are skinnier, but is it really enough to make more damage considering the weight differences?


I think the issue are not the tires but the kickstand, which i have seen sinking into the tarmac on sunny days even on light bicycles.


If you’re worried about a 122 kg bike sinking into the tarmac, better get started banning fat women wearing high heels.


> If you’re worried about a 122 kg bike sinking into the tarmac, better get started banning fat women wearing high heels.

Fat women weiring high heels usually don’t stand on one foot at the same place for a couple of days.


Yes. The sidewalks are asphalt. Which while it does have a viscosity approaching solid it is still liquid. A motorbike left in the same spot for weeks and months at a time will leave a dent in the sidewalk.


Different scooters. Not talking mopeds. We are talking 7.5kgs.


Ah. I assume you’re talking about electric kick scooters, in which case forget my comment as I was talking about regular electric scooters.


I think you should be saying that to hk__2 above :)


You take a capitalist point of view. But the problem could be approached by having the government pay for it and avoid transport competing in a city that is already narrow in space.


In London I get the tube/bus everyday. Each bus idles for 2-3 minutes at every stop, and there are stops every 100-200m, for a 2km bus ride roughly half of the time, and fuel, is spent waiting for people to get on and off the bus, with the bottleneck at the front of the bus where you have to tap in your RFID card.

The bus system is not generally used by wealthy people (house/rents are way higher near a tube station) I would guess that at least 60-70% of the people on a given bus in London are either over 60 (so not paying), under 18 (paying a reduced rate) or on benefits already (so the government is already paying indirectly).

So what is the point in charging? I think you could remove the requirement to pay / tap in on the bus and cut the number of buses running in half, without reducing profitabliity or service significantly. And you'd get better air quality in London as well.


> there are stops every 100-200m

This is true, but it's actually fascinating that this is required for the elderly and immobile. If the stops are too far apart then people have to walk too far to get the bus, and so in practice they don't.

I used to feel the same when I lived in Edinburgh, that the stops were too frequent, but despite the stopping/starting it was useful for others.

Edinburgh has (had?) a fantastic local bus-service. Definitely the best I've experienced in the UK, cheap, reliable, and an unusually friendly set of drivers.


I've often argued half the stops should be marked as disabled/elderly stops. The stops are so frequent, I wouldn't mind walking one stop further at all (or in a few cases even two stops), and I'm really lazy when it comes to physical exercise. Some stops are so close you can recognise people standing at the previous or next one.

I would at least like to see a trial, where half the stops (of those which are really close) are marked as meant for disabled/elderly/blind people. Everyone can stand at every stop and the bus will service it, but everyone likes faster transport and hopefully they'll choose to not stand at disabled stops. Some assholes will undoubtedly refuse, but if that happens at one or two stops out of ten or twenty, that's a win.

Or, alternatively, only service each stop with every other bus. The lines where there are enough people to have stops every 1 minute walking distance, there are also enough buses (like every 10 minutes) to not have to wait long if you don't want to walk to the next stop. Or you time leaving work so that you're there when your closest stop gets serviced: that's no disadvantage for you and a win for speed.


I suspect the average number of stops must be factored into the schedule - such that if the bus stopped at only 50% of the shelters on its route the timetables would need changing.

(And of course sometimes a bus will stop when people want to get off, not necessarily because people want to embark.)


Yes, timetables would be adjusted for it. They do that every year anyway, here in NL at least.

And for disembarking same thing: half of them are for disabled people (or aren't serviced with every other bus, depending on the variant of the idea).


I hope you're just referring to the bus routes in Edinburgh!

The payment system stinks: cash-wise, they only accept exact change only. You can pay a £1.70 single with £2, you just don't get change.

You can pay with the bus app, but this is a hideous payment app that is seriously flawed. Firstly, you have to top up minimum of £10, so no automatic integration to your bank account or PayPal. Secondly, you have to 'purchase' a ticket on the app just before the bus arrives, and it has a time limit. Within this time-limit of 2 minutes, you have to show the driver the ticket. The driver does nothing other than Yay/Nay it. No scanning or anything. Makes it infuriating to use. This is not just Edinburgh, but other parts of Scotland, like Dundee.


Exact-change-only is certainly an annoyance, but the routes, promptness, and decent busses were always a plus-point.

If you pay too much you can get a form from the driver to claim your refund - alhtough I know almost nobody does it, and I never did the few times I was caught short of change.

(I remember before it was a flat-far, when I moved to Edinburgh in 1994 there was a sliding scale to pay for bus-journeys. Something like 50p for 1-3 stops, 60p for 1-5, etc. I remember when that changed and it became 80p for any journey and gradually crept up to £1, £1.10, £1.20, etc.)


I lived in a city like that: exact change only. It was 50cents for a single ride, but if you gave them $1 they gave you a day pass. I usually didn't mind since I was going to take the bus home anyway. In any other case, it irritated me.


That's why I don't feel bad counting and dumping dozens of pennies out of my wallet into their machines. Ask for exact change, get exact change! And the bus can wait till I've paid.


Yes, and the fact that it must waste everyone’s time accommodating the lowest common denominator is a serious challenge to the alleged efficiency of public transport. Merging and passing are incredibly powerful capabilities for both time-efficiency and resilience. The rare public transit systems that incorporate them (NYC subway, etc) are disproportionately more effective than those that don’t (most buses).


You need the frequent stops for sure, although perhaps they could make 1 in every 4 buses and express, with limited stops.

Either way, if there’s 4 double doors along the whole side of the bus that can be used to board / alight, without a tap in queue, the turnaround time per stop could be 3-4x faster.


I get the bus everyday (working in Westminster) and there are plenty of other people in suits who do the same. Busses aren’t just for the poor. I get the bus as it provides the fastest route for getting to work (other than cycling). The tube would require me to change then walk, and an Uber would be longer due to traffic (as they can’t use bus lanes).

The new Routemasters definitely optimise the loading/unloading speed, hopefully they will be rolled out to new routes. Also all new London busses over the last few years have been hybrid or electric, so idling isn’t that much of an issue now.


Your last paragraph is how it works in Switzerland. There are no checks when entering busses, trams and trains. Busdrivers in cities will usually not let you pay with them but sent you to the ticket machine placed in the middle of the bus.

They do send controllers "randomly" to check whether people have valid rides and hand out quite hefty fines if not.

So far I have only ever heard the transportation companies complaining loudly about not being able to collect fines from some people, rather than fare dodging itself being considered a big problem.


Well the tube makes about 50% of its money from fares which is about double the 25% it gets from the government. The rest are things like advertising, renting out real estate, financial plays etc.

Consider that London has a ton of people from outside of the city, and tourists. You can go free for residents, but you'd still need an RFID card system for everyone else. Moreover, if just London decided to do this you'd still need an RFID system for transport that goes in/out of the city, e.g. every train station, many buses. In Estonia they still used cards even though it was all free. You essentially need to make the whole country have free public transport, that's a big decision. Hope the UK will get there within 15 years!


> You essentially need to make the whole country have free public transport

That would be horrendous.

Trains are already crowded enough off-peak. In lieu of more infrastructure (like HS2) the real solution would be to increase the prices to encourage people who are more concerned about price than speed, flexibility, frequency, to take less crowded trains, or other solutions like coaches.


Or just allow a certain number of free miles per day. Ramp up pricing on longer unsustainable commutes. This would mean that the maximum number of people can use the system and prevent abuse.


Pricing actually drops on long unsustainable commutes.

I travel Crewe to London every few weeks, if I want to arrive in London before 11.30, or avoid the 1900-2000 overcrowded 'offpeak' trains, without using the slow train or the loopholes, that's £261 return, or about 90p/mile.

If I were to commute every day (and it's only 90 minutes), that would cost £361.90 a week, or 25p per mile (for a monthly ticket it comes down to £1,133.20 for the month -- or under 20p per mile.


Do you think people take trains for fun? If all the of the bus and tube network were free, I don’t think charging would make a difference to overcrowding, given how much more efficient the buses could be.


Yes, people take trains to go on holidays, do leisure trips, etc, so yes they do 'do it for fun'

However if trains were free, why would people take a coach? Currently those who are more concerned with cost can take a slow cheap coach rather than a expensive fast train.


Alternatively, you can use the model in Belgium and Luxembourg, where you're still expected to tap, but there's readers all over the bus and you can enter through any door.

Of course, that relies much more on trust and/or fear of inspectors.


Or make the fine matches the fare-dodging rate.

Or CCTV and face recognition to auto-bill users or fine fare dodgers. That may or may not be good enough to replace user actions like tapping a card reader (Amazon stores are not the whole population, and I don’t know the reliability, thry may be an expensive public beta for all I know), but there are also privacy implications for such systems.


Lots of cities just do spot checks and do better that way. Oslo and Vienna do spot checks for instance and have much higher throughput and need fewer station staff that way and do not want to sacrifice hat.


The DLR in London is already a bit like this, at least some of the stops don't have any barrier and rely on honesty/inspectors to tap your card before you get on or have a valid ticket.


Your thoughts made me look into London bus demographics and I agree makes sense for rides to be free but I found this saying: 'Over half of day and night bus passengers work full-time (51% and 59% respectively).' p.8 from http://content.tfl.gov.uk/tfl-bus-users-survey.pdf


On page 17 of that same doc you can see that 67% of day bus riders (higher at night) have a total household income of under 30k GBP, which isn’t enough for a household in London without tax credits or other government support


Not really, I imagine a lot of people are single people living in shared houses.


It depends on your route. Grandparent sounds like they are bussing in central London. Further out busses are often the fastest route as all the tube lines are headed into the city, but people often want to go in other directions. There are many people further out whose commute is bus then tube as well. Bus stops are 1km apart and the bus might stop for 30 seconds or skip stops entirely.


Tube barriers have the same problem, although it's not really environmental. Ever seen Canary Wharf station (jubilee line) at 6pm? Or almost any DLR station where there's only two or three oyster card readers for an entire station? I've heard of people being stuck outside the elevators of the jubilee branch for up to half an hour when the DLR is on strike.

Getting rid of the barriers would get people in and out of stations faster, reduce queues and get rid of a lot of redundant station jobs which only exist to get people through the barriers. Actually those last two points may get significant backlash from the British public and the public transport unions respectively..


At Canary Wharf and the ticket barriers and escalators are deliberately kept closed or are going in the "wrong" direction to prevent the platforms from being too full. This way there is room to get off the train even at 6pm when there are a thousand people waiting to get in the train.


Getting rid of the barriers removes the ability to control overcrowding on the platform itself, which at peak times with DLR strikes causes a big headache. You can't just let tens of thousands of people stream into an enclosed space like that without controls.


The bottleneck on a busy stop (where say 40 people board) are people getting on, shuffling down the bus, going up the stairs, etc. I believe you're allowed to board in the middle doors too.


You can board in the middle (eg if with a pram or wheelchair), but then the bus driver will ask you to come to the front of the bus and tap in, while the entire bus has to wait for that.


I assume that doesn't apply to the "new routemasters"?


yeah, the tapping really isn't the bottleneck that count the correct change was, and many people boarding buses for short distances are using them precisely because they're not that mobile.


The problem in many cities is often with people who don't use the system all that much. Routine commuters? They probably have a monthly pass of some sort. Even semi-regular users of a service in a city probably have some sort of pay-as-you-go contactless card like Oyster, Clipper, or Charlie.

Tourists or rare users? They're liming up at a handful of machines. Can't figure out the options. May be having trouble with language. May be having trouble with payment. Can't choose among the many options.

I've been in this latter situation many times. I have my cards and apps for the places I routinely go. For the vast bulk of other places, I'm usually reminded of how difficult these systems can be to navigate--even if I've taken the time to do some homework in advance.


I wonder how many buses are hybrids. Considering the low regular pace, frequent stops .. braking regeneration would help a lot.


30% of London's fleet, increasing to 60% by the end of this year. (Plus a few zero emission.)

Source: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/buses/improving-buses


I've read wikipedia since, it seems cities are ramping up. Paris is also making offers for a 1000 e-bus fleet around 2025.

Also there are capabuses, China tested them, ultracapacitor based for 3km trips between recharge. Funny.


There is a similar debate around paying the £7.00 for NHS prescriptions. The vast majority of prescriptions go to elderly, young, pregnant or chronically ill people who don't pay.


It's £8.80 now. About 10% of prescriptions are paid for, which contributes about 0.5% of the total NHS budget. Prescriptions are free across the board in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The bigger problem IMO is dental charges and the shortage of NHS dentists. The NHS fee for a Band 3 dental procedure (crowns, veneers, bridges etc) is £256.50, which is prohibitively expensive for people on low incomes. Many people can't access NHS dentists at all because of a shortage of providers in their area.


Is that so I still had to pay for my prescriptions (and I was on a lot of meds) with chronic kidney failure for around 2 decades (before I was on dialysis) even when I was on the waiting list.

It made sense to buy the annual pre pay card for £104.


Your description doesn't reflect mine. I take the bus all the time and see people from the whole spectrum everytime.


I hate to mince words but...instead of free, I'd prefer if we used publicly funded, or similar.

1) Usage might be "free" but ultimately someone somewhere is paying for it.

2) More accurate wording would actually better reflect the priorities of that particular culture, often in contrast to others of different priorities.

Free here sounds like "oh, a ride doesn't have to pay a buck. How nice." But the accomplishment is much bigger (and requires a larger financial commitment) than that.

p.s. As a side note, I hope someone is going to study the health related side effects. That is, for example, will riding more mean walking less? Will that add up to an unintended consequence?


My knee-jerk reaction was "well, if you don't want to, then just don't mince the words".

It's not too far a stretch that to abbreviate "toll-free" or "fare-free" as "free". TANSTAAFL. I think everyone understands (to varying degrees) that someone has to pay, though it's arguable how much anyone understands just how much these things cost in the end. :)

However, as others have pointed out, the instant situation makes the criticism of calling it "free" more apt.

It's not that all riders aren't paying a fare. It's that only riders that are, in effect, voting with their taxes, to the tune of 1000 euro per year, by registering as city residents, don't have to pay the fare.

Suburban commuters might want that annual kilobuck to go the municipality where they actually sleep, instead, in which case, no "free" ride for them.

> But the accomplishment is much bigger (and requires a larger financial commitment) than that.

I think even that is arguable in many locales, given how high the existing public/tax subsidy of public transit already is as well as how high it costs to collect fares.


"I think everyone understands (to varying degrees) that someone has to pay,"

I see it differently.

1) I'm absolutely certain "free" and "taxpayer funded" would result in two very different impressions.

2) Along the same lines, how many times do you hear "...government grant..." as if that's manna from heaven. Not at all. It's a euphemism for "tax dollars that Uncle Sam took from taxpayers, took a cut, and then gave it back after we begged for it."

As subtle as it is, the use of "free" is vague, lacks transparency, and in most cases misleading. Why don't we get better language? Better communication?


> 1) I'm absolutely certain "free" and "taxpayer funded" would result in two very different impressions.

Maybe, but that's a false dichotomy, anyway. It's "taxpayer funded" either way. You'd have to say "fully tapayer funded" to be accurate, and then the difference in impression may have nothing to do with the content of the message but the tedious verbosity of the form. It certainly would for me, and I'd smell an agenda on the part of the person using those words in, say, a headline.

> As subtle as it is, the use of "free" is vague, lacks transparency, and in most cases misleading.

Again, maybe you're right, but, without even basic psychology research showing that's the case with that word, by intuition says it's not misleading for most cases.

> Why don't we get better language? Better communication?

A combination of there being no incentive (or incentives to the contrary), or we just don't want it. Headlines are especially notorious for having something like the opposite of "better language".

Ultimately, who are you to say what's better?

Language is usage is language.


Single-payer transport, just like single-payer healthcare.

That said, I would like to add an anecdote to your P.S. I commute to Copenhagen, so I take a train and then a bus to reach my destination. I have a travel pass that lets me take public transport for free in a specified region. Copenhagen also has a bike sharing system, but using the bike sharing system costs money, even with a travel pass. As such, I'm incentivized to not use the bike sharing system and take the (usually crowded) bus instead.

In fact, I know of no one who uses public transport for some part of their journey, who also use the bike share. People either live within biking distance, and therefore use their own bikes (unless broken or for other reasons unavailable,) or they live far enough away that they need to take some public transport no matter what (my situation,) and then just take public transport the entire way. In the end, the bike share mostly just gets used by tourists, when it could very conveniently replace the bus for last-mile transport for many people.


>1) Usage might be "free" but ultimately someone somewhere is paying for it.

That is the definition of free.

Free always means that someone is paying for it. If I give you a book for free I still had to pay for it. The purpose of the word is that the receiver of the good didn't have to pay.


The point is, those using the service are paying (in taxes, or similar). They just don't pay at the time of being served. Pre or post paying doesn't make it free.

Let's not be so naive.


A better analogy would be if I gave you a book for "free", then take the cost out of your paycheck.


Well we all pay taxes, so why not?

A study a number of years ago for my city suggested that the costs of a ticketing system from maintenance of machines to employing station staff and ticket inspectors was higher than the revenue that was collected from fares.


Can you tell us which city?


Melbourne, with trams, trains and buses.

That was before they went $AU1billion over budget designing Myki, a smart ticket system.

Tickets are more expensive than most international cities I've visited and even then they still run at a loss, having to compensate private operators.


So great. In Memphis, TN, I have tried for years to convince our transit authority MATA and our downtown commission DMC to make our light rail (ahem, historic trolley) free, on the following basis: MATA covers 1/7th of its overall opex from fare boxes revenue. The trolleys bring in approximately $700k in a good year. Why even bother with funds control and ticketing services at that point? The direct benefit of increased visitor and resident mobility far exceed the cost and could _easily_ be made up for from hotel occupancy tax or myriad other sources. Instead, the city focuses on a convoluted and expensive parking garage scheme that is mainly an inhibitor, while still losing money on the mass transit.

My lobbying is always met with "heh, how are you planning to pay for that plan!" and all the mechanisms I point to will take some amount of work and political will to shift around, notwithstanding the same sources that currently pay for the remaining 6/7ths of opex. if anyone has constructive new ideas for me to sell the idea, I can be in the mayor's, MATA GM's, and DMC's Pres' office next week to pitch it. end rant.


When the revenue is that small a percentage of the operating expense, I have to wonder what the incremental cost is of that revenue.

Do you happen to know?

Modern fare collection systems can be expensive boondoggles in their own right. That likely doesn't apply to a historic trolley, but you mentioned ticketing services, and even one annual salary is a hefty proportion of that $700k.


I’m an armchair transit specialist, and I do not know specifically, but generally, it would seem the cost for each additional passenger on a transit system follows a step function such that n + 1 < $0.01 until you hit ‘capacity’, a loosely defined term at which point the next passenger causes losses (congestion and delay boarding and disembarking). In a properly running system, the fixed costs dramatically outweigh the additional burden of each passenger, in the same way that the bus engine hardly noticed the additional weight of another 170 lb passenger relative to the 40,000 lb bus. Even with consumables like ticketing, the whole revenue system far outweighs the increment.


That is amazingly good news! The small payments for tickets in many places in the eu are already barely covering the cost of the transport. Just get rid of this bureaucratic process and go for a flat and easy approach to ticketing.


For some reason they still can't get rid of the tracking and ID requirements though.

Estonia is interesting, small enough to make risky moves, large enough to make them meaningful. I wished NL was half as progressive.


I guess that is only because it was at first limited to Tallinn and even after the extension to all of Estonia you still have foreigners not covering the costs with their tax payments. I have no idea what fraction of the people would fall into the respective categories but I would guess that after the extension to the entire nation it is not really worth the effort and costs to make foreigners pay because they are a small fraction compared to the costs of maintaining a payment system.


Also, tourists tend to pay 'tourist tax' in one way or another so they're already covered to some extent.


The main question is who will really pay for a "free" service, which is obviously not free but rather is a kind of flat rate.

In the case of Estonia the expenses could be directly or indirectly covered from EU budget (which is filled by NL, DE etc.) and also the experiment is possible due to relatively low salaries. I cannot imagine such an experiment in NL.


There's no experiment and it has nothing to do with the EU. It's a local thing that didn't initially even have central goverment's backing. Public transport in Tallinn (1/3 of Estonia's population) was made free in 2013 and its expenses are covered from personal income tax from Tallinn's residents.

As to other towns and rural regions, which are poorer, the central government recently passed a measure to increase subsidies to municipalities in an amount that would allow them to make all public transport free, if they wanted. It's now up to municipalities to find a balance between fully subsidized, partially subsidized and commercial lines.


See my comment [0] for the reason why tracking is necessary for them.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17108804


Thank you for that explanation, it makes perfect sense now.


Thailand has free buses since like forever ago. There are different tiers here, free, cheap, normal price, luxurios. I would love to see free medical than free transportation.


>To ride Tallinn’s network of trams, buses and trains for free, you must be registered as a resident, which makes the municipality profit €1,000 from your income tax every year. All you need to do then is getting a €2 green card and carrying your ID on public transport

So that's more like €83 per month public transit. In comparison, a 30 day pass in Tallinn costs €23, or €8.50 for students. Seems like you could simply not register as a resident and come out ahead. Does anyone know if being a registered resident of Tallinn comes with any other benefits, or is this just a case of people willing to lose €60 to get something for "free"? The following quote from the article makes it seem like clever marketing.

>There’s no doubt that we not only cover the costs, but also come out with a surplus. We earned double as much as we have lost since introducing free public transport. We’re happy to see that so many people are motivated to register as residents in Tallinn to make use of free public transport


I think it means that if you are registered as a resident in Tallinn, the national government gives the Tallinn municipality €1,000 a year from your income tax. I don't think you notice it yourself, your tax doesn't change (assuming you were already paying estonian income tax).


you'll notice it by reduced services since that 1000 euros is being moved to public transportation from what it used to be. My guess is that soon you'll see tax rates rise to match the shortfall.

And this is all assuming the public transport will be useful and efficient, instead of being the bare minimum of what is available and chronically underfunded and underrepaired. That stuff is capital intensive and expensive, which bureaucrats will soon find out to their chagrin.


I doubt they are spending €1000/resident on public transit...


> So that's more like €83 per month public transit. In comparison, a 30 day pass in Tallinn costs €23, or €8.50 for students.

You are comparing the total cost with the heavily subsidized end user price, which doesn't make any sense.

What a scheme like this does is move all of the cost to the subsidy, instead of just most of it, by eliminating the end user price.


I'm comparing the options given. Perhaps they should raise the monthly price for non-residents from €23 since there's no reason for residents to subsidize it.


Note that non-residents probably already bring in enough money to the economy to cover the cost of some bus/tram rides, even if they're not explicitly charged for them.


This was done so that people from neighboring municipalities who commute to Tallinn and would like to not pay for the public transport would register themselves as residents of Tallinn and the local municipality share of income taxes (roughly half iirc) would go to Tallinn instead of the others. The price for the 30 day pass was significantly raised as well.

In this light the taxes are redistributed, Tallinn local government has been incredibly corrupt (but strangely functional and with moves like this pretty bold and not dumb) and so one could argue that there has been more theft through corruption but that would assume that the neighboring municipalities are less corrupt, which is not exactly given.

As the goal is to entice people to register as Tallinn residents the tracking part of the plan is absolutely vital.

So in the end this is still a zero sum game or even net negative as it accelerates regional income and by extension brain drain.


When you rip off good social services they end up not working for anyone.

If you don't agree with it, don't move there. Society doesn't need people like you.


>When you rip off good social services they end up not working for anyone.

I think the ones doing the ripping off are the ones charging €83 for a €23 service then calling it "free". Then again, there could be other benefits to registering as a resident of Tallinn, so I don't know.

>If you don't agree with it, don't move there. Society doesn't need people like you.

I don't plan to move anytime soon, but what's stopping the current residents from putting 2 and 2 together? I think society needs more people who know to read the fine print.


Personal income is taxed at 20% and collected by the central government no matter what. Half of that is then transferred to the municipality you're registered in. Personal income tax makes up approximately half of a municipality's budget and covers far more than only transport-related expenses.

Such scheme incentivizes municipalities to compete with other municipalities and offer their residents all kinds of benefits ranging from childcare to public transport to keep them registered there.


I wish this would happen in DC. The D.C. subway is grossly overpriced. All of the federal employees who take it everyday get subsidized fares. That leaves tourists and poor people to shoulder the burden of exorbitant rates. If I drive to work it costs me about $12 to park, and twenty minutes to get there. If I take the subway it costs $5 to park, and $10 round trip, plus a journey that can take up to an hour. If you live further out, it's even worse.


Damn this is a good idea.

The general problem with "free" is that, without the price signal, overuse occurs. But public transport is orders of magnitude more efficient at moving people than cars, so even if people use public transport to travel 10x more than they would use a car-- which is a ridiculous assumption-- this would still make cities like 6x less congested if those people stopped using their cars.


This makes sense. What's usually true with public transport is that:

1. High % of the cost of running it is due to the fare system.

2. The infrastructure is paid with tax money and yet only rich people (as in, able to pay the fare) can benefit from it.

So, it should really be free to use.


One big advantage is that you get much more use out of public transport. I'm well served by trams where I live but there are many times when it would be convenient to travel just one or two stops. It is too expensive to even consider it for short journeys.

From the article. it looks like Tallinn requires residence permits or something. So perhaps they still need a fare system. I'd make all local public transport free for anyone.

May even avoid the need for the diesel car bans being mooted in my city (and some other German cities).


3. There are some very large benefits on scale, on costs and administration.

4. It reduces the use of a severely limited public good.

It's a wonder that they are not free to use everywhere.


Always thought this would be an amazing idea for housing in places like London. Make transport free and regular (as in runs all night) between the centre and the far cheaper to live satellite towns and cities and (young) people (especially) are far more likely to live elsewhere and be happier doing so.


There's just not the capacity to do that. Nearly (probably all) railways into the centre at at 100-200% capacity in the morning and evening peaks. It isn't possible to make the trains run any more frequently (incremental capacity improvement is possible at extreme expense, but nothing that would allow a step change in housing trends).


Very cool!!!

I would explore more of the city here if this were possible... work from different parks and establishments. Instead, seniors and the disabled get hit with another $1 price-hike and have more of an inconvenient, expensive bus system without additional value being delivered.


I thought this wasn't allowed by EU? Completely defeats any chance of a competitive transportation market cross-border.

That said - I wish they would do it in my eu country too. It would be cheaper on the taxpayer - even if he/she doesn't use public transportation.


>Estonia to Become the World’s First Free Public Transport Nation

Wait a minute... What about USSR?


USSR we paid to use public transport, and I even remember when my father was caught for not paying and he had to pay a fine...


Public transport was not free in the USSR.



Its a great way to track who travels where, and how often. They wont make it so people can wander on and off as they see fit. No tap required or anything.


I predict this will be one of the worst public transit systems you could ever ride within a few years. Absent market forces the only way for the city to improve their financial position is to make a service so bad nobody wants to use it. If tickets had prices there would be an incentive for them to meet customer demands and improve their financial position.

If I were in charge of this I would make public transit free for the lowest income levels and very cheap for others.


Not every country has incompetent local government, and not every service requires market forces to operate effectively. As long as the Estonian government (or whichever organisation is looking after the network) prepares for the short and medium future, and keeps collecting and spending tax money effectively, then there's no reason why this can't flourish.


> not every service requires market forces to operate effectively

Can you name a service and a city/country that operates effectively in the manner you state?


Swiss Federal Railways: "88.8% of all passengers reached their destination - measured from departure station including any necessary changes - with less than 3 minutes of delay" [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Federal_Railways


From wikipedia

> The company is headquartered in Bern. Formerly a government institution, since 1999 it has been a special stock corporation with all shares held by the Swiss Confederation or the Swiss cantons.

That certainly sounds like market forces to me.


Not sure what it is about that quote that tells you that. It's still 100% owned by Swiss government, just split between regional and national governments.


NB: This isn't meant to refute your point, as it's contrasting against a totally different competitor (large, corporate monopoly, nothing like market forces) and not necessarily providing free/subsidized service, but I've always found it surprising.

At least in Northern California, municipal utilities, seem to be quite competent. Notably, in the SFBA, Santa Clara and Palo Alto have lower rates [1] and better service than what PG&E offers in all the surrounding communities. Santa Clara even built its own modern, local, efficient generating facilities.

I also heard from my telecom friends who grew up in more rural Northern California that there were towns (and surrounding rural areas) who ended up building and operating their own phone systems and that call quality (due to engineering/maintenance), features, and cost were always better than a neighboring community's service from AT&T or GTE, until, inevitably, it was privatized and sold off.

[1] Palo Alto's electric rates haven't been so great post-Enron, but still better than PG&E AFAIK.


In Istanbul we have both public (bus, metro, tram, "vapur" across the bosphorus) and private ("minibus" which are smaller private busses, taxi, "motor" across the sea). If we ignore shitty traffic on main roads, the former is a million times better than the latter, almost all the time. The "minibus" are hated by everyone for their stereotypically agressive driving/behaviour, but preferred by many because you can get on/off anywhere, can pay w/ cash, and sometimes it serves some areas traditionally better than the bus network.


Having visited Germany only a few days, their public transport was quite timely & effective. And most of it if not all is public.


https://www.bkb.admin.ch/dam/bkb/de/dokumente/Oeffentliches_...

> This Good Practice Guide provides information on improving urban public transport. It showcases how cities in Sweden, Finland, France and Germany have improved the environmental and social standards in urban public transport through the competitive tendering process or through preparations for competitive tendering.

> Competitive tendering refers to the awarding of an exclusive right to operate a route, or a network of routes, to an operator (or possibly a consortium) following a competitive process. Along with, or instead of an exclusive right, the Authority may also grant subsidises to the successful operator in compensation for the fulfilment of public service requirements.

"... following a competitive process." That certainly sounds like market forces at work to me.


Pretty much most of Western Europe. Uk train services are expensive and unreliable, but they are run by private companies.


Your comment proves my point, not disproves it. To remind you, here's the quote we're talking about:

> not every service requires market forces to operate effectively

private companies = market forces, even if they're government contracts.


Ye, and as someone from the UK, I can confirm they're terrible, and don't work effectively, because your god of market forces doesn't work in transport


I don't worship market forces and I have no idea if it works in transport or not. I asked for an example of a successful service that works without market forces and I haven't seen anybody provide one yet.


No-one is suggesting having no market forces anywhere. Market forces are an excellent way of ensuring a good selection of high quality fruit in a fruit market. And they may well be a good way for deciding who manufactures, supplies and operates the buses in a city. I just don’t think they are efficient for deciding when, where and how often the buses should operate as this experiment was tried in the U.K. across many cities outside London in the 80s and it led to chaos. As to examples of centrally planned public transport, London Underground, Paris Metro, Berlin U-Bahn. The only example of centrally planned transport I can think of that’s not operating effectively is the New York subway, but that’s because of a general problem of political corruption in the US. None of these systems operate without market forces, because they use them for things like purchasing trains, cleaning services, engineering designs. They just don’t use them for planning when and where the services operate.


It would be nice if they invested a bit more in their railway system, which is pretty minimal.


Does anyone know if the initiative is tied to the educational system?


Funny how I saw a Lyft “Become a Driver” ad beneath the article.


So then not everything was bad back in the Evil Empire?


I am impressed by whoever in Estonia's government has been doing PR; I've never seen a national government manipulate so much positive free press coverage, between E-residency in recent years and now the free transport initiative. Note that just like E-residency this "free transport" never has to amount to anything, yet by sheer qty of press coverage you'd think Estonia is the eighth continent.

Much like E-Residency the commentary here on and on most tech blogs pretends it'll be implemented to change the world and vast engineering-think discussions of how to implement, whereas in a couple of years it'll be yet another "New Coke/Classic Coke" and Estonia will have moved on to getting massive positive press over... I donno, changing all national laws using grep and tr to have gender neutral pronouns, or free 3-d printing as a constitutional human right, or ban freedom of association to eliminate racism, or legally mandating drone transport corridors in the national building code and planning commission documents, or ...


I (as an estonian) am amazed this topic is reaching the top of HN or any other outlet. Locally it's a dispute of whether what people need is free bus transport or actually a more frequent schedles (I would vote for the latter).

The E-residency thing is way more awesome however and (like the blockchain tech) will take even more time for it to live up to the hype :D


I'm used to cynicism on HN, but never have I seen such mindless cynicism. You used two whole paragraphs of noise to basically say "I don't care".

Depressing.


Oh come on. Every government in the world would like tech startups and has a bus system, but Estonia consistently has the best PR dept I've ever seen, including countries many times larger and better funded. That kind of compliment is hardly a "I don't care".


What license are they using? LGPL? MIT?


Expect taxes to increase.


Free*

*Terms and conditions apply.


World's First Entirely Tax-Funded Public Transport Nation

not free.



I absolutely support free medical coverage and free education... but I cannot put transportation in the same wagon. People who say that it is paid by taxes and it is not free are not wrong thou. The article should notnuse free but a different word. The system in nordic countries is wonderful but it is also starting to get abused.


Nothing, except maybe for sunlight, is costless. Someone is always paying. Free means the users don't pay, not that it doesn't cost anyone anything.


Users dont pay directly. But they still pay via some form. It is actually prepaid in this case


Some users pay, some don't. Not everyone is a net tax payer. And not every tax payer is a user.


Agreed


> World's First Entirely Tax-Funded Public Transport Nation

World's First Entirely EU-Tax-Funded Public Transport Nation

Estonia gets quite significant subsidies, subventions, grants and whatever other aid from EU so they can afford such experiments.

Interestingly, EU officials are also happy because they see the impact as opposed to having money simply disappeared - which is not an exception. Only EU tax payers and donor countries might not be happy because they have to pay for this fun and for their own transportation too - but who asks them :(


Do you have any proof that links EU funds being used for this?


You ask as if it were some criminal activity. Actually, I find using external funds not bad at all whether they are used directly or indirectly (feasibility studies, investments in infrastructure like roads etc.)

I just wanted to say that without having significant financial support from EU Estonia would hardly be able to carry out such experiments with "free" services.


I think you are mistaken. That is why I ask. Every euro from EU is given to a country for a specific thing. Regional development, building roads, public parks etc. I am wondering what EU grants can be converted to cover public transportation.


It's a matter of political will, not foreign grants. Additional subsidies that enable free public transport are 25 million EUR per year [1]. State budget for 2018 is 10 308 million EUR [2].

[1] https://www.err.ee/640797/valitsus-pole-veel-tasuta-uhistran...

[2] https://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/129122017031


He doesn’t need it, it’s dogma


Yeah, the problem with the EU is really that the small peripheral countries have too much influence, whereas the wealthy countries are bullied submission /s


And here I thought EU will mean equality and not Europe on two speeds.

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