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Paris Will Make Public Transportation Free for Kids (citylab.com)
305 points by pseudolus 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 227 comments

Why not make it just free for everybody? Public transportation typically has profit margins of -50% to -90% anyway... just take it to -100% and get a huge boost in ridership! (And probably save some expenses relating to collecting payment/enforcement.)

Except a boost in ridership is absolutely not what you’d want in an overpopulated city like Paris. Subway is so bad i’ve already witnessed people waiting for trains from outside the station itself.

in the peak hours you often have to skip two or three trains because they’re packed.

Please don't take this as a general rule for the subway in Paris. While it is true that some lines (13 is infamous) at some hours are really packed, most of the time it is fine.

I was born in Paris and have lived there for 30+ years, and the vast majority of the time I can take the subway just fine.

if you work in IT chances are you’re going to the office a bit after peak hours and coming back home late.

13 is a mess indeed but 4 is also bad , 7 has a lot of trouble, 12 has crack addicts on the dock menacing passengers, etc..

i’m also born and raised in Paris, and lived there for 40 years, but once you take the subway in other crowded cities ( honk kong, tokyo, shanghai, sf , london, etc) you realize having a subway that smells urine and shit , has technical issues every single days, and simply can’t handle the population flow at all, isn’t « normal ».

We can live with it, the whole society has adapted to it, but i wouldn’t call the situation «fine».

Again, I disagree here.

I take the 4 all the time as it is right next to my place, without any issue. In fact I cannot even remember the last time it was packed.

I also traveled and did not find other subways to be considerably better in every aspect. Subway in Japan is horribly complicated for example, with different companies operating the various lines of some major cities! London's tube is known to be overcrowded as well, and I feel like technical issues happens everywhere but in Paris the driver actually tells you what's going on.

People like to romance what happens in Paris, don't be fooled, in reality it's just safe and fun in my opinion.

The alternative to a boost in ridership is a boost in car commutes. You want that even less in a city like Paris.

> The alternative to a boost in ridership is a boost in car commutes.

Or walking... Do you walk a quarter mile or do you ride the bus? If the bus is free the number of able bodied people using the bus for trivial distances could increase.

You walk. Riding a bus means you have to wait for one first. A 5 minute walk isn't worth the wait unless there are extra conditions (no walkways, ice on the walkways, heat wave...).

No, but a fifteen or twenty minute walk or bike ride can lose out to a free bus. At least some walkers will be enticed onto the bus, which will require more capacity, which will then improve frequency, which will then attract some more walkers, rinse and repeat.

Above a certain frequency buses become extremely unreliable and dwell times start impacting travel time because bus stops only have so much room. With trains you have more room to work with, but once you run out the marginal cost of building new lines runs in the hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.

That's exactly what paying for services is designed to avoid.

When services are made free, people have to wait longer, paying with their time instead of with money.

People who don't want to wait and are not given the choice of paying for faster service end up having to buy cars instead, making traffic worse for everyone.

Alright, what if it's a mile or two? When I was a student I used to walk a few miles a day around town because I didn't want to pay for a transit pass. I was young, broke, healthy (and the walking helped me stay that way); I didn't particularly enjoy walking but liked walking more than I liked spending a dollar on a bus fair.

I don't think you can write off the decrease in foot traffic free public transit would cause.

Not sure how the fee works in Paris to this demographic, but elder people will usually rather use the bus probably.

The metro is full because people commute to their workplace. I don't think a significant fraction lives within walking distance of their job.

You might be inclined to move home to be within walking distance of your office, or to work from home sometimes, or to use the (very good) Velib bike hire scheme, or buy a bicycle or a motor scooter.

Metro rail is sexy, but it's only one part of the transport mix.

I move about almost exclusively by bike, but I realize that for many people it's not possible to live close enough to their workplace to do that comfortably. Also, Paris is a terrible city for cyclists (at least that's what it looks like in the videos I've seen) and it takes decades for infrastructure to be built up sufficiently for people to feel safe on a bike.

I think that making public transport free in an easy step on the way to a city that relies a lot less on cars. Of course making it more attractive to walk or cycle and more expensive to drive is very important too, but that requires a lot more work.

biking in Paris is worse than you think :

it’s dangerous because roads are very narrow ( so protected bike lanes are rare) and there’s a lot of traffic.

the bike city service got changed recently to include electric bikes and as a result nothing worked for months ( not sure it’s back to normal yet).

Even if you manage to get a bike there’s a very high chance your bike will have defects because people like to do stupid things with them, like getting down stairs, or hitting the curbs.

and finally, if you think about buying yourself a bike, expect to have it stolen on average once a year ( depending on its price).

"You might be inclined to move home to be within walking distance of your office"

Very few people would have this luxury in city like Paris, where housing is prohibitely expensive in the city center, where many offices are traditionally located.

And, before you say "You might be inclined to find a job where more affordable housing is available", many people do not have so much choice in terms of where to work (same as working from home).

I pine for the day when a viable arternative is just _working from home_. The technology has been available for at least a decade now. The resistance to remote work is social at this point, and it's stupid.

Only 30% of people have cars within Paris and public transport is cheap.

There is little point in making public transport free there. This is still money to be paid one way or another.

at this point, Paris needs to either massively transform itself ( higher buildings, larger roads, etc), which means destroying buildings in the center, like haussman did in the 19th century, or motivate people to just go live elsewhere.

Paris is losing people because the lodging costs are too high anyway

Anne Hidalgo is actively working on the second point.

> in the peak hours you often have to skip two or three trains because they’re packed

What's the interval between trains at peak hours?

I used to take the metro line 3 from station saint-lazare. At peak hours there was a train practically every minute. As soon as one train leaves another one enters the station a few seconds after. So I often did what parent said. skipping two or three trains isn't that bad when there that many trains.

try line 13

That is a line that I always try to avoid :). I was forced to use it for a short period of time, but I was lucky, I traveled only on the section from Montparnasse to Chatillion which, I think, is not as busy as the rest of the line because most passengers transfer to other lines at montparnasse.

i used to do place de clichy / st ouen at 7pm a long time ago, and i sometimes had to stay on the dock for 20 minutes letting train pass.

A few minutes.

Then at least make it free for off-peak hours.

Paris had 2.9 million people in 1921 and 2.2 million today. Is it really overpopulated?

Your numbers are from the city of Paris. Most people riding in the metro during working rush hours are not from the city of Paris, but from the suburb. The suburb population in 1921 was 4.8 M in 1921 and 12.2 M in 2010.


The RER was created in the 60s for this purpose and continually expanded since, no?

The RER contains the western world’s busiest train line with over a million passengers a day. It’s become a victim of its own success. In fact moving block signalling was invented to boost capacity on the RER.

The government is currently investing $25B in building more relief capacity, but who knows how much investment you’d need to handle the unlimited travel demand caused by a free fare.

The RER brings riders from the suburbs into the city, but doesn't add to the infrastructure for transporting them once they're in Paris.

There are RER stations within Paris: everything within zone 1 is in the city of Paris:


But even if cutting prices is within Paris only it will probably affect suburb-Paris traffic, because it changes the cost of a trip to Paris, possibly now cheaper than driving. The article is light on details, but it looks like these measures are taken by the city of Paris with the aim to reduce the traffic within the city.

Just like Tokyo's density is actually lower than Paris, the elephant in the room is the number of people who commute to the city center every single day. That is the only metric that matters for transports.

That was considered. A study was commissioned and concluded [1] against for several reasons :

- the projected impact on car use was negligible (around 2%) ;

- the projected increase in the number of users (between 6% and 10%) is above the current infrastructure capacity ;

- the new cost (3.3 billions euros) would be mainly supported by the Paris agglomeration inhabitants through their taxes rather than spread on all users ;

- it's already free for the poorest and heavily subsidised for most of the local.

[1] https://www.iledefrance-mobilites.fr/actualites/conclusions-...

One of the major issues around offering free public transportation is funding. Public purses are pretty strained everywhere and additional taxes are unlikely to be accepted. Physically, there's also a problem in that systems are simply not geared for the expected increase in ridership which in itself is sufficiently large enough to cause problems but not meaningful enough to cause a significant dent in car use. I believe this was one of the rationales behind the decision of Paris not to offer free public transportation to all.

In France, Dunkirk apparently does offer free public transportation for all but it's a small city [0].

[0] https://www.france24.com/en/20171109-france-french-cities-pu...

There is absolutely no "shortcut" for cities to skimp on having sufficient transit infrastructure to get people where they need to go. If you underbuild, people drive cars. If you overcharge, people drive cars. If you restrict car traffic, people simply don't move or work in your city and your economy dies.

One way to balance between free ride abuse and people not using the trains because they have a car is to give residents the "average" number of rides a commuter would use in a week to them every week for free. Maybe even give people who don't own motor vehicles more free rides as a "thank you" from the city for not making them maintain the road and parking infrastructure for you.

But any city that is not expanding its transit to meet demand is crippling its own economic potential. Its a shame that pretty much every US city is guilty of this but most of the US government is designed to self-sabotage things like publicly run transit anyway.

> most of the US government is designed to self-sabotage things like publicly run transit anyway

What level of US government is sabotaging transit? The federal government doles out at least $2.3B every year for transit projects[0], meanwhile state and local governments throughout the US are approving tax increases for more transit.

[0]: https://www.transit.dot.gov/funding/grant-programs/capital-i...

And 41 billion by the federal government is spent on roads.

168 billion total from state and local.


Public transit on the other hand sees only 24.38 billion total.


> The federal government doles out at least $2.3B every year for transit projects

That's about a fifth of what just Paris spends per year. For a 300-million inhabitants country, it seems a bit low.

$2.3b sounds like peanut spending given the scale of the US and the current state of transit in the country.

>$2.3B every year

At this level a couple billion dollars is hardly anything.

Is it the public purse?

Or is it unions? Or maybe something down the chain?

The TTC/Subway in Toronto has 'change collectors' - people at every station who do change, they earn over $100K if they work a lot of overtime.

There are effectively no automatic change booths at the stations, and no automated way to just 'buy a token and get on'.

Can you imagine why it's so inefficient?

Why they can't just get machines for that?

My cousin is senior at a contracting agency that's building out the new stations - everyone from top to bottom is charging huge for government work.

CGI, a Canadian consulting firm billed the US Gov. more than a $ 1 Billion for healthcare.gov - something that Google had to 'come in and fix'.

Governments are much bigger and more powerful than ever before, individual litigation is on the rise, 'special rights and concerns' are at the forefront, and there are a million legal tangles to any major project.

Many of these things, on their own are 'good things', but on the whole, it really creates a tangle.

The reason very little gets done is that we are caught up in our own efficient bureaucracies, public and private.

Your comment reminds me of a very recent hilarity in Austin: the city has set aside $100k to put up a 10 foot fence to prevent crime in a popular shady alleyway: https://www.austinmonitor.com/stories/2019/01/city-hopes-10-...

It has all the hallmarks of the things you bring up in your comment. Contractor was going to build it, but fire department demanded a special lock in case of emergency, screwdriver for a nail problem, etc.

How can you run a fire department and think you need or even have any use for a special key for every fence in the city, when you already have master bolt cutters.

> Why they can't just get machines for that?

That's actually what they do in Toronto now. It's all "Presto Card" automated.

No, you cannot 'just buy' a 'presto card'.

Astonishingly, the 'change collectors', who only sell tokens don't sell Presto cards.

Yet another mind-blowing bit of incompetence.

In Montreal, not only can you buy temporary cards (with money or visa), but you can also put rides on them in a fully automated way.

I will admit that the situation in Toronto may be temporary, but it's still utterly ridiculous.

Actually, you can now buy a Presto Card from machines. There are no more change collectors! And there are absolutely no more tokens. They just transitioned.

I'd encourage anyone down-voting this to suggest why the TTC Subway 'change collectors' who sell tokens to enter the subway (essentially their only function) - do not also sell 'presto cards'.

And why you have to line up, pay, enter the station, and buy 'presto card' passes ... from the newstand in most cases ? ...

It's utter dysfunction.

[1] http://getpres.to/en/gateway-newstands/

And luxembourg

Yes Luxembourg will be first, here is a good article about it: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/05/luxembourg-to-...

It was already really cheap, but it was annoying to always have to buy a ticket, have coins in your pocket to do so or remember to recharge your card. As a luxembourgish citizen that uses buses and the tram in luxembourg city from time to time, especially the night shuttles back home after going out, so I'm really happy this will finally soon happen.

I also think it financially makes sense for the country, all public transport costs the country 1 billion but the fares only bring 30 million in, so covering those last 30 million by taxes is in my opinion a good idea. The ticket machines can now get abolished which will save costs too and the workers controlling tickets will be able to do other tasks like related to security instead of hunting down people that didn't pay their 2 euro ticket.

must be nice to live in a country that's not even have half the size of Washington state and has a smaller population than one county (King, to be specific, has more than two million if I remember) in it.

I truly do not see why that matters. For the most part, such things are just an excuse to avoid installing a public robust transportation system. Yes, the amount of people you have, size of area, and terrain makes different sorts of stresses on your system - which is why they need to be somewhat customized to an area.

Businesses do this all the time, and I don't see how it is too big of a hurdle to overcome.

Past a certain point the cost of new marginal capacity is hundreds of millions, or billions of dollars, or even tens of billions of dollars in new metro, bus rapid transit, etc. That’s money that could be invested in welfare, housing, healthcare, etc. And it has to come from somewhere. And this is before you consider that it takes a while to build such projects.

Guangzhou had to pull the plug on free transit during the 2010 Asian Games because queue times for the metro increased by half an hour just to get into the station, let alone board a train. What’s the use of a free train if you can’t board it?

FWIW, as a resident of King County, I would welcome "free" public transportation. The buses on all but the busiest roads are nearly empty most of the time, so as a taxpayer I'm already paying for their cost. If nothing else it might make sense to make rides free on the routes where there are hardly any riders today, since they aren't paying for themselves anyway.

What has that to do with the ability to make public transit free? Fewer people means less taxes too.

completely free means you have one less legal reason to kick out the bad kind of homeless.

Unlike The MTA the Paris metro shuts down at 1AM. So no one is camping out on the platform, for long.

And last time I was there the controllers were scanning passes quite frequently.

> So no one is camping out on the platform, for long.

I've never been in the Paris métro after it shut down, but are you saying the homeless people camping in some stations in the evenings, wrapped in their sleeping bags, get up at 1 a.m. and file out? I somehow doubt that.

They are kicked out. The doors are locked.

I have spent a couple of nights in locked metro stations myself : before locking, they just warn that they're going to lock. Whoever's still inside is locked in until morning, but there's no kicking out.

That must be one of the bigger stations like Châtelet. There are endless hallways and tunnels to hide in. A simpler 1-train station will have 2-4 exits and they will certainly put you out.

Using subway stations as shelters during off peak hours is a masterstroke of efficient infrastructure. Every city should do that.

nope, the right would be everyone be able to have a place to live. There is no dignity in supporting the poverty.

What if some people don't want a place to live, just somewhere dry to spend the night?

It depends on the station and season. In winter, station masters have a higher tolerance for camping - and it's worth mentioning that it comes down to the decision of station controller, not the RATP.

kind of a strawman. Maybe one could also find better ways to give shelter to homeless. And for the bad kid there are other ways than using tickets for that.

Laws are kind of a non sequitor. Maybe one could also find better ways to motivate people to treat each other decently.

But I’m going to continue funding homicide investigations.

“Don’t make things livable in small and practical ways, just hold out for total structural revolution and the solution to multigenerational and intractable social problems” is an infuriating line that unfortunately guides much of San Francisco policymaking.

(1) Its not homicide vs. housing. Both are fundable without impacting the other, that's a straw man.

(2) You live in a society and pretending that you don't and funding nothing isn't going to make the problem go away, it's going to be there getting worse. This is the dark side to America's individualism. Everyone looks out for themselves and pretends nobody else's problems should matter to them, then look around at the crap pile that leaves behind and wonders whose responsibility it should be -- not theirs to be sure.

Forcing transit riders in particular to empathize with the depths of human misery as their punishment for wanting to get around in an unjust world doesn’t cause the overthrow of capitalism. It just repels transit riders.

I'm a transit rider, and I empathize with the less fortunate. It's hardly a punishment for getting around town. I don't want to overthrow capitalism, it's definitely got it's advantages, which is why I'm for democratic socialist reform. I've seen great transit, and awful transit. SF juts happens to have the latter, and no amount of throwing our hands up and ignoring it is going to solve it.

Are you saying that depriving people of places to sleep makes the city more livable.

I avoid BART as much as possible because of the filth and crazy people. Often the escalators are broken because they're clogged with human feces.[1] And that's just with homeless people sleeping outside the stations or on the cars while BART is operating. It would be far worse if they slept in the stations overnight.

So yes, I'm willing to tell some homeless people to go to a shelter (of which there are plenty in the city) rather than ruin a transit system used by half a million commuters.

1. https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Human-waste-shuts-dow...

It only takes one person reeking of urine to make a whole train car a vile place to spend any time. So yes.

if there are so many people with problems that this happens often, your city has much more important problems to solve(helping those people) than "nice transit" (my city & most cities have to do this as well tho .. i am probably hypocritical in this)

We are not going to solve the problem of democratic governance by a majority-homeowner electorate. To the extent that a homeowner electorate would ever allow homelessness to be solved:

- Can't solve homelessness without mass affordability.

- Can't have mass affordability without density.

- Can't have density when voters are worried about congestion and parking impacts of development.

- Can't stop worrying about congestion and parking impacts of development when you drive everywhere.

- Won't stop driving everywhere until transit is attractive.

Homelesness and repulsive transit are a feedback loop. We have to break it somewhere. Fare enforcement is a lever we actually have.

In Melbourne, Australia, Trams are free for everyone within the CBD district

I think it's worth specifying that Melbourne's CBD is pretty small, and there aren't a lot of reasons why you'd need to travel within it where you haven't already gotten in by public transport (for which you have to pay, and travelling within the city afterwards wouldn't cost extra even if it weren't free - our pricing scheme is notoriously complicated).

I live in the CBD, and the only time it ever actually saves me money is in getting to the bus station to the airport.

It was introduced as part of a protracted plan (or lack thereof) to get rid of their least profitable ticket, and has been carefully designed to sound good while minimising utility.

Not to disparage the concept, but in this instance it was introduced to raise revenues, not lower them. Indeed, as Melbourne's trams are run by a private company, none of their policies are designed out of public-mindedness.

The trams are managed by a contracted private company, but pricing and public transport policy is set by the government, which is your first of several factual errors.

There are multiple reasons you'd need to travel within the CBD where you haven't already gotten in by public transport:

It opens up multiple locations in the entire CBD and surrounds to a single day trip without shuttling cars between overly expensive and time consuming parking.

The office can go out together for birthdays, christmas parties, etc without worrying about people's travel means and budgets.

Need to get down to the other end of the CBD for a business meeting: tram. Need to meet someone for coffee? Tram.

Tourists love it when they're staying central and it gives a good impression of our city. Some don't even buy tickets any more when coming for a convention or show.

I can go out and meet my friends/wife for lunch at various parts of the city, get down to the mall to do some shopping, and get back up to work all in the same lunch break now. Not everyone just does single destination trips in and out the city without doing anything else.

It allows one to move around the city and venues with less attention to the weather.

Not having to tap on or off increases boarding/alighting times for a given amount of throughput and in quiet times. (irrespective of whether you've paid to commute in or not)

Many of us from the surrounding suburbs now walk into the city and back out again, making a day of it in the city: this brings life and vibrancy to ALL the surrounding areas and increases walk-ability and foot-traffic, not just in the CBD. There's a whole ring of neighbourhoods on the periphery of the free-tram zone where walking now substitutes for hoping onto a tram 1-4 stops out from the CBD because you know you can make a free transport day of it.


The downside is of course more congestion on trams in the city as more people are using it to move around a few kms of space. And lower city-based tram revenue, but its also partly responsible for added life and vibrancy in the CBD.

The over-crowding is a definite downside when you're only commuting in/out/through the CBD, since you still pay and now often share the trams with large numbers of people going 3 or 4 stops, but we can hardly pretend there are no benefits.

Source: live just outside the CBD.

> pricing and public transport policy is set by the government

I'm not unaware of this fact, but consider it basically irrelevant. Trams were privatised in 1999, after which the long series of fare policy adjustments were so baldfacedly opposed to public interest that the argument they were done absent pressure from whichever private organisation owned them at the time is warrantless. And they weren't subtle about the pressure, either - their arguments that their mandate wasn't profitable enough were ceaseless.

If you believe there are other factual errors, let me know.

Addressing the other points would more or less come down to citationless expressions of experience, so I don't know if it's worthwhile. I recognise that you do raise a few benefits, but I don't accept that it's an improved situation over the previously free Swanston Street route absent some numbers. We'll probably have to agree to disagree.

Only because their card reader system was so slow, that passengers trying to touch off their passes caused massive traffic disruptions. (Melbourne trams are in the centre lanes of the road, and vehicles in the outer lanes have to stop behind trams with open doors.)

they weren't free for foreigners when i was there. good move.

It's only within the very central grid. The rest of the cities network requires payment.

Public transportation in Paris is already somewhat overcrowded, especially during rush hours on several lines(cannot get it even by letting several subways pass). It's mandatory that employers reimbourse 50% of the price, and overall it's already really cheap. All in all, it's a bit pointless and more a stunt. (it's free as well for a couple of tiers if I remember well)

Why not aim for 0% profit, and keep public transit self sustaining?

Everything has a cost, and making something (virtually) cost 0 only transfers the cost elsewhere

I agree. Let's start charging cars every time they use streets and highway based on their mass and space used.

How does that differ from state registrations and fuel taxes?

> How does that differ from state registrations and fuel taxes?

The taxes are too low.

> The report documents that the amount that road users pay through gas taxes now accounts for less than half of what’s spent to maintain and expand the road system. The resulting shortfall is made up from other sources of tax revenue at the state and local levels, generated by drivers and non-drivers alike. This subsidizing of car ownership costs the typical household about $1,100 per year—over and above the costs of gas taxes, tolls, and other user fees.


I feel like this is the same story that repeats itself all over the place.

Another one is when our northern neighbors in Canada complain about the Chinese elite buying up homes AND keeping them vacant. They want higher taxes on empty homes and homes owned by Chinese nationals. I say such a scheme is racist. The real solution is to increase real estate and property taxes on EVERYONE so each unoccupied house is a net positive return for the community. Nobody likes this idea. They don't want to pay higher taxes themselves. They just want to charge people who aren't there and don't have a voice.

Another example, when I brought up the idea of taxing revenues instead of profits, people said that retail grocery stores would fail instantly because they run on very slim margins. If we said taxes apply on total revenue, anyone operating on razor thin margins would pretty much instantly go out of business. (I usually don't like to admit my ideas are horrible but this one was pretty bad in hindsight. However, the point is taxes on businesses are too low as a percentage of revenue. As an individual, I am also able to spend all the money I earn. I don't claim I should pay no income tax.)

Trucks are the ones damaging the roads. They could pay their fair share and you can enjoy increased prices on all the goods you use delivered by their service.

Which would be in line with the GP's argument of self-sustain systems and not passing any cost anywhere else:


Do you think those cover the cost of building and maintaining the roads? Do local/property/state/federal taxes not contribute to roads?

That would dramatically increase prices to the end user; some of the lowest firebox recovery rates in the world are here in the Bay Area. The VTA only takes in 10% of it's operating expenses from ridership, so we'd have to raise a one-way adult fare on the VTA to $22.50 (neglecting the demand curve). bart, though, would go up "only" 30% -- while Muni rides would go up to $6.50 [1]

Like highways, these are infrastructure. The goal isn't to recover 100% of revenue from the farebox because it generates revenue indirectly. Without roads you wouldn't have trucks. With a $6.50 Muni ride you wouldn't have much of a downtown core.

There are some notable examples like Hong Kong MTR which generates 125% of operating expenses from the farebox, though their density helps and their creative business model (allowing MTR to own surface rights above stations it constructs [2]) help that out an awful lot. I'm sure if Muni/Bart/Caltrain were gifted the land on top of each station we'd see fares come down real quick.

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

[2] https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/2154424...

0 percent means you cant invest in transports anymore? Or do you include investment before the profit calculation?

"0 percent" meaning break-even -- fares and ads cover all (variable, at least) costs.

No transit agency in the USA accomplishes that, to my knowledge.

When the network is saturated what do you gain out of a free ride for everyone? More crowded trains and more people hating trains. Well done!

I'm worried this could be seen as a subsidy of tourists by taxpayers. Then again you could work around that by increasing the city night tax - except then you'd be giving even more unfair advantages to airbnb cheaters

Because nothing is ever “free”.

s/free/paid for by the taxpayer

So what? The point is that it's already mostly paid by the taxpayer, this is just slightly increasing that percentage to 100%.

the ride fare is necessary to scare people off public transit, otherwise the service would be overused.

previous studies done showed that making it free did not result in significant uptick in usage[1].

It really comes down to, does it go where you want from where you want when you want and all this on a timely basis. Hence the big reason buses always win over rail as they can adapt to changing needs.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/01/why-can...

"Buses always win over rail"? In what way do you mean? Fixed routes like rail encourage investment around stations more than bus stops. Rail that doesn't share right-of-way with auto traffic can also be significantly faster than buses. Also, if you look at large cities with mature and widely used public transportation systems (London, Paris, NYC, Chicago), you'll find that both rail and buses are both integral parts of the system.

In terms of the cost, for systems that aren't heavily used (but nonetheless are essential) getting rid of the fare would probably actually save money, because the slowdown in service, the confusion over payment, and the whole infrastructure to support and enforce payment is actually more expensive than the revenue it generates. It would also serve the population better, be a more pleasant and relaxing experience for riders and drivers, and speed up service. So even if it doesn't increase ridership, it's still worth doing.

> the big reason buses always win over rail

A bus from where I live to London takes about 5.5 hours, compared to 2 hours on a train. I can also get a meal served on a train and work comfortably at a large table, which I can't do a bus. Busses definitely don't always win over trains. I think they hardly ever do.

Every time I get a bus in London I regret it, without fail.

And London has the best bus system in the UK

That's an extreme example of long distance travel, not normal commuting distance.

Well it's certainly extreme and long distance on a bus! It's fine on a train.

> A 2002 report released by the National Center for Transportation Research indicated that the lack of fares attracted hordes of young people, who brought with them a culture of vandalism, graffiti, and bad behavior—which all necessitated costly maintenance

Interesting. So making it free actually increased costs.

The wording here, "hordes" of young people is pretty telling of the bias of the writer. Young people are one of the most important target audiences of public transportation, since they aren't able to drive.

When it is for free, then more of them don't earn more money.

That the costs increased seems obvious. The causes here are a bit interesting, but well-known to anyone who's run a free service.

A combination of buses and trains is far superior to buses only.

For longer journeys, buses are far too slow. When buses replace trains (e.g. for track maintenance) in Melbourne, travel time usually doubles.

Have you been to Europe?

Public transport should be free for everyone, and that is something I'm willing to pay higher taxes for. If it's free more people will use it, which will justify more investment.

I used to think that, I love the utopian idea of just walking on any public transportation for free, and I would happily underwrite a little extra via taxes to make that a reality. But the counter argument really is that the minute you divorce a service entirely from payments, it is at increased risk of rapidly diverging from the needs and desires of the customer (user, consumer).

If I choose to bike or walk or take a cab because the train is being terrible, that is felt directly in decreased revenue. I think that’s important for keeping things a little more honest.

If someone can do a private shuttle bus more cheaply than the public transit, and it also offers better service, that should be made obvious. If the public service is entirely paid for by taxes, it would be really difficult to see what’s going on.

Even if it's free to use they should keep monitoring 'profitability' of every lines, e.g. by assigning a value to each passenger to pay for the upkeep of the line.

And then what? In NYC at least the subway and ferry service is very inefficient by pretty much any measure, and that's why they're constantly running in the red. The problem is there is no real feedback, instead they just lobby for more subsidies and higher prices. If there were some kind of feedback, they would prob improve efficiency like reducing service to outer boroughs or charging more for those, stopping ferry service as that's a huge money sink, reduce head count and maybe restructure pension obligations. Instead they're putting usb ports in trains

If I remember correctly, the reason they're not profitable is that their budget is regularly requisitioned to pay for political boondoggles not really related to the metro service at all.

It's not that public transport is a bad idea, it's that assholes will be assholes, and the public purse is annoyingly easy to spend on obvious bullshit and political bacon. I wonder if there's a way to structure these things so they're more resistant to these shenanigans.

Relevant article:


"[...] the problems plaguing the subway did not suddenly sweep over the city like a tornado or a flood. They were years in the making, and they might have been avoided if decision makers had put the interests of train riders and daily operations ahead of flashy projects and financial gimmicks.

An examination by The New York Times reveals in stark terms how the needs of the aging, overburdened system have grown while city and state politicians have consistently steered money away from addressing them."

"Century-old tunnels and track routes are crumbling, but The Times found that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s budget for subway maintenance has barely changed, when adjusted for inflation, from what it was 25 years ago.

Signal problems and car equipment failures occur twice as frequently as a decade ago, but hundreds of mechanic positions have been cut because there is not enough money to pay them — even though the average total compensation for subway managers has grown to well over $200,000 a year."

"None of this happened on its own. It was the result of a series of decisions by both Republican and Democratic politicians — governors from George E. Pataki to Mr. Cuomo and mayors from Rudolph W. Giuliani to Bill de Blasio. Each of them cut the subway’s budget or co-opted it for their own priorities.

They stripped a combined $1.5 billion from the M.T.A. by repeatedly diverting tax revenues earmarked for the subways and also by demanding large payments for financial advice, I.T. help and other services that transit leaders say the authority could have done without.

They pressured the M.T.A. to spend billions of dollars on opulent station makeovers and other projects that did nothing to boost service or reliability, while leaving the actual movement of trains to rely on a 1930s-era signal system with fraying, cloth-covered cables.

They saddled the M.T.A. with debt and engineered a deal with creditors that brought in quick cash but locked the authority into paying $5 billion in interest that it otherwise never would have had to pay."

You're missing the point. There is feedback: usage stats.

Public transport is already heavily subsidised in most European cities.

One of the aim is to cut car use, not to specifically balance the books of just public transports. The issue is thus to avoid using taxpayers' money to finance lines that run mostly empty.

If people are driving in, is cost what’s stopping them? At least in the US public transport riders have lower incomes than those who do not.

Probably not. However, having free public transportation will actually reduce operating costs: no need to maintain all the infrastructure (and people) needed for selling and checking transit passes.

This can improve passenger flow (I live in Paris, and turnstyles are a major pain during rush hour) and passenger convenience.

In the case of Paris, traffic is positively horrible, and parking is even worse of a joke. Yet there are people who still prefer driving and who don't even come from the suburbs (where public transit may be somewhat lacking). The reason is clearly one of convenience which means that this should be taken into account by the authorities if they really want people to drive less (which is the official policy here).

I agree that passenger convenience is extremely important. Part of passenger convenience is the ability to be able to use the train for its base purpose, to get on the vehicle that gets you from A to B.

My concern is that free transit would lead to an insatiable amount of travel demand, which we already see with free roads that magically fill up the moment expansions open. A free train is useless if you can't board it. And even with Paris's ambitious plans to expand transit there probably wouldn't be enough capacity, and even that new capacity is only scheduled to come online in a few years' time, since you can't increase buses and trains available instantly.

It's true that new capacity generates new demand, however I think there are some limits. When the monthly pass pricing became flat, it was way cheaper for people living far in the suburbs to come to Paris proper. I don't have any numbers, but I don't have the impression that people started coming in in much greater numbers.

In the case of Paris, public transit is already insufficient during peak times. I'm sure most people who don't already take it have reasons other than the price, meaning that if it were free there wouldn't be a significant rise in traffic.

However, I think that all the money spent on the ticketing system could help improve the general reliability which in turn would help provide more capacity. This would probable incite more people to take public transport which could help the transport authority obtain more funding from the region government.

As in Paris the transport authority is already heavily subsidized, I think it would be interesting to have to some numbers on how much tickets bring in vs how much the whole ticketing infrastructure costs.

I can only speak for myself, but I would've used the train if it hadn't been just as expensive and less convenient than the car 3 yrs ago. Now I'm living in biking distance from work and sold my car entirely.

This is coming from Germany though, so ymmv

What about induced demand?

I agree with the main thrust of what you're saying. But money does serve an important purpose, rationing scarce goods.

It's a fair question. The evidence from Tallinn, Estonia seems useful: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11116-016-9695-5

> rationing scarce goods

Transportation should never be a scarce good. If induced demand highlights cracks in our transportation infrastructure, our job is not limit that use but to fix it through increased capacity.

Increasing capacity might distort the market for other stuff besides transportation.

For example it might cause a company that was going to open an office in a neighboring city to open the office in Paris instead.

So the neighboring city should make it free too?

If they all can afford it, sure.

If they can't afford it they end up with overcrowded buses and then people who don't want to wait a long time for a bus that isn't full have to buy cars instead, and traffic gets worse for everyone.

I don't think that is fair to taxpayers that don't use public transport because they walk, bike or use a car.

I believe the opposite, it's just as fair as when I pay for public healthcare despite being "never sick", when I pay for unemployment compensation despite not needing it, or when I pay for public school despite not having kids.

It makes society better because it means less congestions on the street and less pollution, it makes it fairer for those that don't have a choice (because they're too far from work to bike or walk, because their city does not have have the right bike lanes, etc ...), it's the definition of what taxes should be for in a developped society, imho.

I'm happy to pay higher taxes for it, despite not needing it since I work remotely and have most place I go to within walking distance by living in city center.

Healthcare and unemployment act more like insurance than a service though I don't entirely disagree I just think they're not great comparisons.

Ability to move around to (possible/prospective) jobs locations is a big factor in unemployment. Free public transport means losing my ability to pay for my car doesn't mean I lose the ability to go more than a couple of miles away from my house.

Not that the article here is for kids (and in particular for Paris) so my comparisons is not that great I admit but still, living in a rural area I've spent my entire teenage decade dependant on public transport to go to the school my parent wanted for me, to go to "the city" see my friends/visit places/go to the mediatheque where they had computers (!!!), and along with the food cost at school it was a major expense for my parents, that they would have had to cut on if one of them was unlucky and lost his or her job.

So it still rings very true to me. But again, given it's about Paris, my exemple is not that great. You probably realized I would probably be ok for it country wide though.

In a pure economy, a job that is located in a place that is expensive to reach will cease to exist or pay enough to make the commute worth it.

If there any country where that actually works properly though ? We might approach it in some localised places but we're not reaching it overall. And then add that France is a democracy that's centralized like a dictatorship ...

Sorry, but that's pretty pedestrian way of thinking. All of these categories (esp. cyclists) will benefit from reduced traffic and less air and noise pollution. As long as you're ok with government taxing you, making public transport free seems to me one of the best uses for these funds.

Also, there must be plenty of less obvious effects. E.g. Uber Eats or other kinds of delivery services can get cheaper, if couriers can travel across the city all day for free.

There will be more traffic and more air pollution. People will take the bus more often instead of walking or cycling. The bus companies in most Western European countries use diesel engines.

And Uber Eats wont use public transport, it is very slow compared to an e-bike or scooter.

This argument is really flawed. How is it different from: "I only take one road to and from work, why should I pay for roads other people take?"

The roads are funded by road-tax. You only pay for the roads if you use them. They are not funded from income-tax. That is a fair system.

Are we still talking about France? Wasn't the vignette abolished some time ago and now, I guess, funding comes from tolls? (Which I guess you can call "road tax", just confused by the vernacular)

I live and work in a suburb of NYC...and effectively MUST drive everywhere...and that sucks. I would happily pay more taxes IF they were devoted to supporting and upgrading and growing any/all public transit; and of course bringing any cost down to users/citizens. (I would much rather be able to take public transit myself to work instead of driving.)

Out of curiosity, why can't you use the existing transit system?

I travel often to NYC and it doesn't seem much different to those of many major European cities, at least in terms of reach.

Why do you prefer paying for public transport through taxes instead of paying a fair price for your ticket? Why does your retired neighbor need to pay for your commute too?

> Public transport should be free for everyone, and that is something I'm willing to pay higher taxes for

This is location dependent, public transport is not a build-it-and-they-will-use-it expenditure. Where I live, it is not something I'm willing to pay higher taxes for and every time it's done, it goes empty and costs lots. It is the equivalent of just setting a bunch of money on fire.

I live in the Balkans. The previous gov administration made public transport free for senior/old people that are retired (64+ y/o). They just kept spamming the busses as if its an amusement park, it was always full and dirty. They would spend the whole day in a bus, cruising around the city, use it as a meeting hub to meet other old people... Clearly it didnt work.

When I was a kid, I loved free transportation in my city. I could get on a bus off peak hours, and make a trip or two around the whole city, just staring out the window. Sometimes I wonder if that was a significant part of what made me who I am.

Little tip for anyone living in SF (fair percentage of this website): All minors can ride muni free if their family is at or below the Bay Area medium income, which is $115K for a family of four.[1]

[1] https://www.sfmta.com/fares/free-muni-youth

I was 17 for my first internship in sf in 2000. A monthly youth muni pass was $8. Looks like it’s 39 now.

Ugh, what's the point of making rich kids pay? Just to make it awkward for rich kids and normal kids traveling together?

You can’t tell. It’s a free RFID pass that looks the same as anyone else’s.

Hong Kong makes 2 billion a year on public transportation. They did that by giving the land around the station to the transportation agency, so they lease it out long term, and that pays for all the trains and operations. They charge a token fee for using public transportation.

I'd prefer to see real public support, rather than a business/profit justification for lower fares, but in the current greed-valued world I'll settle for a greed justified way to create a community good.

This system is just amounts to indirectly funding public transportation with taxation, just from taxing local properties via rent instead of funding it from general tax revenue.

Perhaps it results in more public support for some reason, I'm unfamiliar with the politics of Hong Kong.

Usually the alternative is that the money from building rent is just going into the pocket of some real estate company. So it’s kinda like a big tax on real estate companies (which sounds like a hell of a good policy to me. Rent seekers and all that)

Then just tax that. Effectively giving public transport the ability to collect taxes in small pockets of your land around public transport stations seems like an odd way to go about it.

You could similarly run the police at a profit instead of being a cost center by gifting 100 hectares around every police station to the police, and have them collect rent on it. That doesn't make sense either.

For one, it creates a perverse incentive where the government can't let property prices fall for the common good least their public transport (or police) services would go out of business.

Hong Kong famously has a problem with this. It's a relatively low-tax regime with absurdly high housing prices, because they raise a much larger part of their revenue by taxing land than most other similarly developed areas.

Taxing real estate at large causes a supply-side pressure, driving up market prices. If you only "tax" very specific land around a train station, you limit the effect on the greater market. In theory a government could pass such location-specific tax law, but I've only see that done via property taxes.

> Taxing real estate at large causes a supply-side pressure, driving up market prices.

Not if you tax the value of ground rent only. If anything, the effect goes the other way, as owners are incented to put their underused properties on the market. (And yes, taxing ground rent only in some relative small areas e.g. around a station may introduce distortionary incentives. But in general, shifting taxation towards land improves the incentive for good government, especially provision of local amenities.)

The advantage is that by doing this you are only taxing people in opportunity cost and it’s only affecting a small area

There is also strong synergy between the trains and the area immediately around it. Also you have to buy the land anyways for the station.

Don’t think that argument holds as strongly to police statins

Many economists see land value tax as a "perfect tax" that has none of the bad incentives of other tax regimes.

  makes 2 billion a year on public transportation
No, they make money on real estate to offset their losses on transit.

The value of that land is its adjacency to public transportation, I don’t see this statement as the slam-dunk you seem to think it is.

When Google ‘loses money’ on search to make it up with ads, everyone thinks this is very clever. What Hong Kong is doing is no different.

  The value of that land is its adjacency to public transportation

In SV, land value is generally orthogonal to nearness to public transportation (because of demographics if nothing else). And along transit lines, the only uptick is near to stations. (If you live next to rail between stations, it's a disadvantage because of noise and added travel in accessing neighborhoods on the other side of the tracks, since you are limited to established crossings.

Actually, no. The MTR’s farebox recovery is over 100%. They make a profit on fares and make even more money on real estate.

I remember reading that they were able to cover all the costs because of accounting categorizations that they could consider only because they had the real estate. But I don't really know - that's just what some article was saying.

Okay, that wasn't stated... and that's unheard-of among US transit systems AFAIK.

So capitalism tells them what to do: Sell that deficit train business and go fully into real estate :-)

They make a better profit than a typical landlord because train service improves the value of the real estate.

Capitalism helped by a government that doesn't grant land leases longer than 75 or 99 years... so it can give it to the transportation agency.

Sounds like a good idea. Transport for London already does this.

Toronto (TTC) is also free for kids 12 and under.

Ghent (Belgium) has also done this for several years already. Among others, my kids' school uses this for local activities such as going to one of the city parks (a weekly activity in certain years/classes); only the teacher and non-local kids don't ride for free, total cost for the school is much less.

It is free also in Rome for kids under 10 years

In France, Lille did make it free for all. This is probably helpful to reduce car needs.

Living part time there, this claim is false.

Are you sure about public transportation being free in Lille? (I've been there often and I've never heard of that.)

I'm not entirely sure.. my memories are fuzzy.

Probably confusing it with Dunkirk. It's the largest and latest (back in september 2018) city to implement free for all.


Most probably.

When I was in Lille several years ago, you were supposed to buy a ticket but it really wasn't enforced at all. The ticket machines were to the side of the train entry, and there were no turnstiles or anything like that. My first time I got on without even realizing I was supposed to pay.

This is the norm for nearly every form of transit in Switzerland and Germany, among a few other countries. I use buses and trams daily as well as urban trains and seem to be checked every 1-2 months, on average.

It works partly because the fines are relatively significant and levels of public trust and integrity are likely more universal, so there are few "Schwarzfahrers" (fare dodgers, literally "black travelers").

I've had to tell tourists the local transit is not free though, so maybe it needs to be marked better for them.

Out of curiosity, where was this?


They didn't have signs to that effect (regarding fares)?

Caltrain has the same "honor" system, but conductors often do proof-of-payment checks.

Lille's subway is "driverless".

as noted below, it's Dunkirk

In Slovakia trains are free for students and seniors. [0] Most people see this very negatively.

[0] https://www.slovakrail.sk/en/zero-fare.html

In Istanbul public transportation is free for people older than 65, and also for disabled people. For students between 7 and 30 years it is cheaper; 41% of normal price.

In Turkey, 65+ and disabled thing is mandated by central government. Only student discount is decided by the municipal authorities.

Why is it seen negatively?

Making things free can increase demand beyond what’s reasonable (for example, there was recently someone in the press explaining how, thanks to moviepass, he would enter a cinema just to go to the restroom). Maybe old people take trains just because they can, taking capacity from paying customers that really need the train to get to work or whatever.

I've seen that. In my small town, taking the bus is free for senior citizens. So they sit there all day and socialise because they simply have nothing better to do.

There is an entire community of homeless who ride the all-night VTA buses across Silicon Valley.

VTA likes this because it artificially inflates their census.

sudden 30 days ago [flagged]

Because only a few people truly understand economics.

As far as I can see, highly intelligent people of roughly equivalent intelligence/experience disagree profoundly over economics. So I doubt anyone truly understands economics.

In Prague (Czech Republic), public transport is completely free for people under 11 and above 70 :)

All trains and public transport is free for kids under 6 in Germany

In Nashville, public transit is free for all public high school students and most middle school students. The school system reimburses the transit authority for those rides.

It allows kids to participate in more after-school activities (when school busses don't run). But yeah, they also go to the mall on the weekend.

Warsaw made public transportation free for school-age kids (must show valid school id if prompted) about two years ago, which I think was a great move.

It's not really about the cost: this move makes it easier (in many ways) to use public transportation to get your kid to school. It means you don't have to think or worry about your child's tickets, buying or validating them. You just hop on and ride, only remembering about your fare (presumably you already have a way of paying, I use my phone to pay).

Seattle does this for kids in middle school and high school. Each kid gets an Orca card for free (transit card that we use in the Seattle area). Lots of kids use them, even the kids who travel ~10 miles to get to their school. I know it's saved me a lot of money in gas and bus fare over the years with my kids getting this benefit. The only down side is that the cards are only good for during the school year.

Odd that they name a card for kids after a vicious predator.

It stands for One Regional Card for All and it ties into an area wildlife. Orcas are commonly seen in local Native American art, mythology, etc. and are generally well-regarded. Local news often runs stories about certain whales in area pods. It’s not as weird as you’d think if you don’t live here.

  are generally well-regarded
I didn't say they are evil, just that they are ruthless predators. They're a natural element of their ecosystem, playing a longstanding role in it.

But I still feel for the humpback calves.


It wouldn't be the first time a transit card is named with a theme "sea creatures that start with O":



It’s not for kids. Grownups use Orca cards to get around Seattle’s transit too, we just have to pay for them.

Or be lucky enough to work for a company that provides them for free.

Note that the city’s mayor is up for re-election in 2020.

This move isn’t going to change much. Children under 4 already don’t pay, and children under 10 pay half price. But overall it’s fairly rare to see kids commute by subway in Paris. Most kids go to school not far from where they live.

For those who may believe that this is going to increase the number of kids begger in the subway, I’d say that these guys already don’t pay...

Currently it's free under 4 and half price under 10. Considering that it's not expensive to begin with this is really PR more than anything else.

Yup and I've not seen many children that would use tickets and not go through with their parents. Or they have passes of their own if needed for school commute.

Good initiative However, Paris city council elections are due in 2020 ... difficult not to see a direct link with this happening end of 2019

I find it interesting to contrast this with the situation just over the channel. In the UK, over 65s get free bus passes.

Why has each country come down on different sides of who is deemed most 'deserving'? What's the rationale for targeting one group or the other?

In the UK, old people vote far more than young people do. Additionally the party that has been in charge for almost a decade is focused on this older section of the electorate. They are famously unpopular with younger people.

Why would they 'waste' money on people that would never vote for them anyway?

The policy was announced by Labour. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8186848.stm

But yes, good point.

"Paris announces free monthly transport pass for over-65s": https://www.thelocal.fr/20180110/paris-announces-free-monthl...

Means tested though.

It's mentioned in the article.

Toronto made public transportation free for children under 12 years of age 3 years ago.

Public Transport has been free for kids/teenagers(under 18) in Tbilisi, Georgia(The Caucasus), for almost a decade. And 40% of the fare for studens.

this is quite common in central Europe, not sure what it's making Paris newsworthy

in Prague anyone under 15 travel for free (need to get is card which cost less than euro) and even adult accompanying toddler under 3 travel for free, of course retired people above 65-70 have everywhere in central Europe free travel

Finally! No more pesky kids :P

This is a bad idea: The ticket price will raise for everyone else or the taxes, remember "there is no free rides"

Yeah, God forbid anybody pays an extra Euro per ride to provide kids with some freedom of travel in their city.

"The kids should buy a car to get around like everyone else"

If my experience as a kid in Paris is anything to go by the only thing this does is redirect ticket inspectors energies towards adults and away from chasing vagrant ticketless kids all day long.

I visited Paris in January of 2016 and was shocked how badly maintained Paris metro was. Here's a vid from 2018 that went viral last year and I can see things haven't improved. Everything's in shambled and things are failing apart. I'm actually amazed that they haven't had any major accidents yet.


I definitely wouldn't let kids under 15-16 ride alone.

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