Monday, 21 May 2018

Universal Basic Transport

Goodbye, car nation?
Estonia To Become The World’s First Free Public Transport Nation

...Now celebrating five years of free public transport for all citizens, the government is planning to make Estonia the first free public transport nation...

...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

How does this work out for the municipality?

“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.”

Who is profiting the most from free buses, trams and trains in Tallinn?

“A good thing is, of course, that it mostly appeals to people with lower to medium incomes. But free public transport also stimulates the mobility of higher-income groups. They are simply going out more often for entertainment, to restaurants, bars and cinemas. Therefore they consume local goods and services and are likely to spend more money, more often. In the end this makes local businesses thrive. It breathes new life into the city.”
Radical? Unrealistic? Maybe.

On the other hand, buses, trains and trams already exist. So does Tallinn’s experiment in making them free to use, so other nations and regions will be able to watch and see how well (or badly) this works.

Worth watching by anybody who's even a tiny bit serious about traffic congestion, the effect of traffic emissions on the environment and human health, or road accidents. We're still a way off from renewable-powered electric cars for the masses, but most trains and trams these days are already electric, as are increasing numbers of buses.

Free at the point of use might be far-fetched, or even undesirable (affordable is good, but a perverse incentive to use energy for unnecessary journeys is bad). But investing in existing modes of public transport, in tandem with things like the road infrastructure needed to make cycling less hazardous might even turn out to be a quicker and cheaper solution to our traffic problems than waiting until every car showroom sells nowt but 'leccy vehicles and every home, garage workplace and car park has enough charging points.

If nothing else, you could use a radical pro-public transport agenda to generate a bit of free electricity, by making Margaret Thatcher spin in her grave:
"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure." (Quote widely attributed to Margaret Thatcher, who apparently never said it,* but it's the sort of sentiment she'd have endorsed).

*According to Wikiquote, the misattributed quote was based on these words by Loelia Ponsonby, one of the wives of the 2nd Duke of Westminster, who said "Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life". Always good to hear people being mocked for not pulling themselves up by their bootstaps by somebody whose fame rested almost entirely on being born to titled parents (the courtier Sir Frederick Ponsonby, later 1st Baron Sysonby, and Lady Sysonby), being brought up in St James's palace and entering into a disasterously unahppy marriage with a Duke.