‘Free public transport: Wallonia’s fake good idea’
While various political parties are calling for public transport to become free, the Walloon Transport Operator (OTW), the head office of the TEC, sets the record straight with solid arguments. No modal shift from cars to buses will happen because motorists can already afford the tickets. Pedestrians and cyclists will be interested, and buses will become overcrowded.
One of the solutions that hover around European politicians’ heads to deter motorists from their car is to make public transport completely free. Estonia has taken the step, and Luxembourg will follow. Paris, on the other hand, has abandoned the idea.
Free buses in Wallonia?
In Wallonia, with elections lurking ever closer, political parties are jumping on the bandwagon. In January, the cdH asked for a study while PTB and the Socialists (PS) advocate for it in their programs. The latter only suggest making public transport free for youngsters aged under 25 and retired people over 65.
The green party (ECOLO) also pushes for it. They include a free pass for the unemployed or those benefiting from social assistance. “Free public transport will lead young people to stop using individual cars,” reads the green program.
655 million euro
In all this brouhaha, the Walloon Transport Operator (OTW), managing the TEC Company, sets the record straight. Currently, the TEC needs 655 million euros to function, 115 million of which is paid by the users’ tickets. The Walloon Region finances the rest. It equals 139 euros per citizen. With new investments, that amount should increase to 150 euros.
The company takes the opportunity to remind that free measures already exist. “Young people aged under 12 use the transport for free while those aged between 12 and 25 pay half price. The adult price only pays for 27% of the total managing costs of the TEC,” notes TEC Marketing and Mobility Manager, Stéphane Thiry.
‘The wrong argument’
To make the Socialists’ argument a reality would require a 38,5 million euros yearly investment. Totally free public transport would cost 655 million euros a year. “With our current budget, buses are already full at peak hours. Making them free would require further investments for new vehicles,” adds Mr. Thiry.
The OTW also notes that this move will not push the motorist to abandon his or her car. “It will have no impact on the modal transfer. Price is the wrong argument. This shift requires investments in a new offer that competes with cars. It requires connected and comfortable buses, more drivers, more specific lanes that guarantee the buses’ priority over cars. A desirable offer will make things move. Making it free comes way behind,” continues the Mobility Manager.
In the OTW study, conclusions point to a series of negative consequences that would be caused by free public transport. “The journey of 90% of motorists will become longer than with a car. Therefore, they will not appreciate a free ticket. Those who will are the cyclists and pedestrians,” details the study.
Finally, the transport company points out that, currently, no alternative source seems viable enough to finance the hole left by the loss of transport tickets. The OTW proves that making public transport free is a fake good idea that will not lead to the desired consequences. “What needs to be done is massively investing in infrastructure and vehicles to compete with cars,” ends the TEC’s managing company.