In December last year, Luxembourg announced that it would make all public transportation — trains, trams and buses — free for everyone by March 2020, becoming the first country in the world to do so.
Years before that, in the mid 1990s, cities in Germany and Belgium had also made public transportation free for residents.
The Delhi government’s plan, however, will possibly be the first where free public transport will be available only to women. The move, experts believe, will give women mobility and open up more opportunities to them.
Another difference between policies implemented by the West and the one conceived by Delhi is the stated purpose. While the West came up with the policy as they were grappling with road congestion and private vehicle use, the plan here is to make sure women travel safely.
Luxembourg, the richest of the 28 OECD countries, also has the highest car per inhabitant ratio. Road congestion was the primary reason for the policy in the small country with a population of about 6 lakh.
But before Luxembourg, Estonia’s Capital Tallinn started a similar experiment in 2013. While the number of public transportation trips increased from 55% to 63%, the number of car or walking trips reduced. The biggest difference was seen in the number of women taking public transportation, rising from 43% in 2012 to 71% in 2013, a study titled ‘The prospects of fare-free public transport: evidence from Tallinn’ stated.
One benefit of the policy, according to the research paper published in the journal Transportation, is that the frequency and volume of public transportation increased when the policy was implemented, as did the ridership.
It, however, states that the shift to free public transport was accompanied by an “undesired shift” from walking to public transport and an increase in car traffic.
“There is mixed evidence concerning whether fare-free public transport improved mobility and accessibility of low-income and unemployed residents. Fare-free public transport led to a trip generation effect among these user groups and the respective market share of public transport increased by more than 20%. However, there is no indication that employment opportunities improved as a result of this policy. Satisfaction with public transport and popular support in FFPT increased during the study period,” it added.
Several other cities, however, have rejected the policy years after it was implemented. Belgium’s Hasselt, which was among the pioneers of the policy in 1997, decided to revoke it in 2013 owing to budgetary constraints.