Free public transport

Free public transport, often called fare-free public transit or zero-fare public transport, refers to public transport funded in full by means other than by collecting fares from passengers. It may be funded by national, regional or local government through taxation, or by commercial sponsorship by businesses. Alternatively, the concept of "free-ness" may take other forms, such as no-fare access via a card which may or may not be paid for in its entirety by the user. Luxembourg is set to be the first country in the world to make all public transport free[1] from 1 March 2020.[2] Germany is considering making their public transit system fare-free in response to the EU's threatening to fine them for their air pollution levels.[3]

As some transit lines intended to operate with fares initially start service, they may elect to not collect fares for an introductory period to create interest or test operations.


City-wide systems

Tallinn, capital city of Estonia with more than 420,000 inhabitants, and several mid-size European cities and many smaller towns around the world have converted their public transportation networks to zero-fare. The city of Hasselt in Belgium is a notable example: fares were abolished in 1997 and ridership was as much as "13 times higher" by 2006.[4]

See list below.

Local services

Local zero-fare shuttles or inner-city loops are far more common than citywide systems. They often use buses or trams. These may be set up by a city government to ease bottlenecks or fill short gaps in the transport network.

See List of free public transport routes for a list of zero-fare routes within wider (fare-paying) networks

Zero-fare transport is often operated as part of the services offered within a public facility, such as a hospital or university campus shuttle or an airport inter-terminal shuttle.

Some zero-fare services may be built to avoid the need for large transport construction. Port cities where shipping would require very high bridges might provide zero-fare ferries instead. These are free at the point of use, just as the use of a bridge might have been. Machinery installed within a building or shopping centre can be seen as 'zero-fare transport': elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks are often provided by property owners and funded through the sales of goods and services. Community bicycle programs, providing free bicycles for short-term public use could be thought of as zero-fare transport.

A common example of zero-fare transport is student transport, where students travelling to or from school do not need to pay. A notable example is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which provides much of the funding to operate the Stevens Point Transit system. All students at the university can use any of the four citywide campus routes and the other four bus routes throughout the city free of charge. The university also funds two late night bus routes to serve the downtown free of charge with a goal of cutting down drunk driving.

In some regions transport is free because the revenues are lower that expenses from fare collection is already partially paid by government or company or service (for example BMO railway road in Moscow, most part of is used to as service transport and officially pick up passengers).

Many large amusement parks will have trams servicing large parking lots or distant areas. Disneyland in Anaheim, California, runs a tram from its entrance, across the parking lot, and across the street to its hotel as well as the bus stop for Orange County and Los Angeles local transit buses. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, provides tram service throughout its parking lot.

In July 2017, Dubai announced it would offer free bus services for a short period of time on selected days.[5]

Disaster relief

Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit commuter rail temporarily offered free service for those needing transportation alternatives during the 2017 Tubbs Fire and 2019 Kincade Fire.[6][7]


Operational benefits

Transport operators can benefit from faster boarding and shorter dwell times, allowing faster timetabling of services. Although some of these benefits can be achieved in other ways, such as off-vehicle ticket sales and modern types of electronic fare collection, zero-fare transport avoids equipment and personnel costs.

Passenger aggression may be reduced. In 2008 bus drivers of Société des Transports Automobiles (STA) in Essonne held strikes demanding zero-fare transport for this reason. They claim that 90% of the aggression is related to refusal to pay the fare.[8]

Commercial benefits

Some zero-fare transport services are funded by private businesses, such as the merchants in a shopping mall, in the hope that doing so will increase sales or other revenue from increased foot traffic or ease of travel. Employers often operate free shuttles as a benefit to their employees, or as part of a congestion mitigation agreement with a local government.

Community benefits

Zero-fare transport can make the system more accessible and fair for low-income residents. Other benefits are the same as those attributed to public transport generally:

Global benefits

Global benefits of zero-fare transport are also the same as those attributed to public transport generally. If use of personal cars is discouraged, zero-fare public transport could mitigate the problems of global warming and oil depletion.


Several large U.S. municipalities have attempted zero-fare systems, but many of these implementations have been judged unsuccessful by policy makers. A 2002 National Center for Transportation Research report suggests that, while transit ridership does tend to increase, there are also some disadvantages:[9]

  • An increase in vandalism, resulting in increased costs for security and vehicle-maintenance
  • In large transit systems, significant revenue shortfalls unless additional funding was provided
  • An increase in driver complaints and staff turnover, although farebox-related arguments were eliminated
  • Slower service overall (not collecting fares has the effect of speeding boarding, but increased crowding tends to swamp out this effect unless additional vehicles are added)
  • Declines in schedule adherence

This U.S. report suggests that, while ridership does increase overall, the goal of enticing drivers to take transit instead of driving is not necessarily met: because fare-free systems tend to attract a certain number of "problem riders", zero-fare systems may have the unintended effect of convincing some 'premium' riders to go back to driving their cars. It should be kept in mind that this was a study that only looked at U.S. cities, and the author's conclusions may be less applicable in other countries that have better social safety nets and less crime than the large U.S. cities studied.[9]

List of towns and cities with area-wide zero-fare transport

For local and/or limited services, see List of free public transport routes





United States

Perception and analysis

Free public transport creates the perception of a no-cost service, just as car drivers commonly perceive no cost to deciding to take their car somewhere. The catch of the car-based system is that the car trip is not in fact free, but it is generally perceived as such.

Likewise, this perception of freeness is important for public transport, which is far more environmentally and resource efficient than own-car travel – which means in this case that full access to the system need not be altogether “free” for its users but that from a financial perspective it becomes front-loaded and affordable. The invariable fact of life of delivering any public service is that the money to do so must come from somewhere – and of “free” public transport that once the user has entered into some kind of “contract” with her or his city – for example a monthly or annual transit pass that opens up the public system to unlimited use for those who pay for it. Now, how they pay and how much will be part of the overall political/economic package (“contract”) of their community. In cities that offer such passes – as is the case to take but one example in most cities in France that since the mid-seventies have had their own Carte Orange – the remainder of the funds needed to pay for these services comes from other sources (mainly in this case from employers, local government).

Social-justice advocacy groups, such as the Swedish network, see zero-fare public transport as an effort in the redistribution of wealth.[54] It is also argued that transportation to and from work is a necessary part of the work day, and is essential to the employer in the managing of work hours. It is thus argued that financing of public transportation should fall to employers rather than private citizens.[55]

See also


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  6. Houston, Will (30 October 2019). "SMART offers free rides as full service returns". Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 31 October 2019.
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