Transit for All

Posted by & filed under .

Why mass transit?  Why free?


Free public transit is not an unheard of policy.  In fact, global cities such as Hasselt Belgium,[1] as well as parts of major U.S. cities, such as Vail, CO, and Standford, CA, already offer free public transit zones.  Seattle, WA, offer free downtown rides during daytime hours.[2]  Some cities, such as Sydney, Australia, offer free high-frequency shuttle services.[3]  Many university towns offer free public transit to move students around large campuses.


NYC already some aspects of free transit.  For example, there are several free ferry services, which do incur costs but provide universal benefits.[4]  Currently, the Metropolitan Transit Authority offers free ride Metro Cards to school children.[5]  During earlier rounds of budget cuts, the MTA threatened to cut this service for students, even though it would make education a practical difficulty for many NYC school children.  When the MTA agreed to maintain this service, it stated, “”charging students would have a life-changing impact on the ability of New Yorkers to receive a quality education.”[6]


What are the benefits?

Free transit has several proposed benefits.  First, vulnerable populations- such as those without access to cars and drivers’ liscenses, eldery, and people with disabilities- as well served by such a policy.  Free transit options will help workers in their commutes, as well as providing a means for workers without cars to find employment.[7]  Second, free public transit can be an effective way to deal with problems (called “externalities”) caused of car use:  noise, pollution, parking, and congestion. Third, reducing fares for transit will encourage greater travel volume, leader to cheaper costs and greater efficiency of mass transit systems.  The existence of free public transit will also help promote tourism and travel to city centers.[8]  Additionally, getting rid of payment structures can make public transit more efficient, cutting down on boarding time (especially with buses).  Finally, making widely available and accessible public transit can create high quality jobs- drivers, maintenance, and administration.


A cost-benefit analysis of various free transportation systems for students in several cities in the Netherlands and Belgium found: “The social cost-benefit analysis shows that the “free” public transport project is a beneficial measure, not only for the students being able to travel for “free”, but also for the society as a whole. The benefits generated by the project exceed the costs. There is a positive welfare result or gain for the society as a whole. This gain is mainly a result of the encouraged modal shift from car use towards public transport use which leads to a significant reduction of external accident, noise, pollution and congestion costs.”


Making public transit accessible, efficient, and geared towards serving the needs of the 99%.  Building and revamping out public transportation infrastructure is another step towards promoting jobs for all.


[1]    Hasselt has offered free public transit sine 1997.  See Cees van Goeverden, Piet Rietveld, Jorine Koelemeije, and Paul Peeters, “Subsidies in public transport,” European Transport Trasporti Europei  n. 32 (2006): 5-25.

[7]    van Goeverden et. al. “Subsidies in public transport,”

[8]    van Goeverden et. al. “Subsidies in public transport,” p. 46.

Comments are closed.