(CN) — Luxembourg is planning to become the first nation in the world to make all of its public transportation free. Starting in 2020, the government says, it will do away with fares on trains, trams and buses, to encourage people to use public transportation rather than cars.
Luxembourg City, the capital of the wealthy grand duchy sandwiched between France, Germany and Belgium, suffers from traffic congestion.
One study found the average person in Luxembourg City spent 33 hours in 2016 sitting in traffic. By comparison, the same study estimate that people in Los Angeles spent 104 hours in traffic jams.
Luxembourg’s move is part of a wide range of measures across densely populated Europe to rein in traffic. For example, Madrid last week began restricting cars in its city center.
Congestion, air pollution and lack of space are among Europe’s chronic problems. Reducing traffic also is part of larger efforts to fight global warming.
“We have a big congestion problem (morning and night) and need by all means to reduce traffic,” said Danielle Frank, a government spokeswoman, in an email to Courthouse News.
She said the government believes making public transportation free will help Luxembourg cut down on congestion.
Luxembourg spends about $1.1 billion on public transportation and takes in about $34 million in fares.
It is not the first nation to offer free public transportation.
This summer, Estonia’s public buses became free for its citizens throughout the Baltic nation. Since 2013, trams, buses and trains have been free for residents of Estonia’s capital of Tallinn. Tallinn bills itself as a world leader in a growing international free public transit movement.
Other places, too, have experimented with free public transportation. Wales, for instance, has experimented with free buses on weekends. Public transit is also free in several French and Polish towns, among other places.
Bigger cities also are looking at it. Brussels this year decided to make public transportation free on bad smog days. And Paris is studying the possibility of making its metro system and buses free.
But it’s far from clear just how effective free public transportation on its own can be in fixing traffic congestion.
“By and large, it is not price that makes people take public transport or not,” said William Todts, the head of Transport & Environment, a Brussels-based nongovernmental organization.
Public transportation is heavily subsidized and largely affordable throughout Europe, making the price of a ticket not a big factor. For example, it costs just over $2 a ticket to use Luxembourg’s public transportation system.
“Speed determines your choice of vehicle,” Todts said in a telephone interview.
To fight congestion and boost the use of public transportation, he said barring traffic from city centers, reducing the number of car lanes and lowering speed limits are more effective.
One risk is that free public transit systems could deteriorate from lack of funds, he said.
“We don't live in a world of limitless public resources,” Todts said.
Free public transit, he said, “is a positive as long as it is part of measures to improve the quality and speed of the service.”
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)
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