Why (not) abolish fares? Exploring the global geography of fare-free public transport

  • Wojciech KębłowskiEmail author


Although the policy of abolishing fares in public transport—here referred to as “fare-free public transport” (FFPT)—exists in nearly 100 localities worldwide, it has not been thoroughly researched. To start filling this gap, I enhance the conceptual clarity about fare abolition. I start by providing a definition of FFPT, discussing its different forms, and introducing a distinction between “partial” FFPT and—the main focus of the paper—“full” FFPT. Next, I distinguish three perspectives on full FFPT—first, approaches that assess fare abolition primarily against its economic impact; second, analyses that look at its contribution to “sustainable” development; third, more critical arguments highlighting its politically transformative and socially just potential. Against the background of this debate I offer the most comprehensive inventory of full FFPT programmes to date, and begin to chart and examine their global geography. As a result, FFPT emerges as a policy that takes diverse forms and exists in diverse locations. Supported and contested by diverse rationales, it cannot be analysed as transport instrument alone.


Fare-free public transport Public transport Urban transport Transport policy Transport geography Fares 



This paper has benefitted from critical conversations with a great deal of fellow researchers and friends—none of whom, needless to say, bears any responsibility for the arguments presented above. I want to thank Mathieu Van Criekingen and David Bassens, my doctoral supervisors, for their relentless trust in my ability, and interest in my work. I am indebted to Kobe Boussauw, Frédéric Dobruszkes, Anna Plyushteva, Stijn Oosterlynck and Tim Schwanen, for the attention they gave to my work, and their generous comments and critiques. I am further grateful to my interviewees in diverse sites of fare abolition, for opening their doors to a young and over-inquisitive scholar. Last, but most certainly not least, I want to thank Laura Martinez Alonso—for her kindness, wisdom, patience, and for her help with transforming my text into maps.


The funding was provided by Innoviris (BE) (Grant No. 2014 PRFB 16).


  1. Aftimus, P., Santini, D.: Brazil: from dream to nightmare. In: Dellheim, J., Prince, J. (eds.) Free Public Transit, pp. 183–196. Black Rose Books, Montreal (2018)Google Scholar
  2. Aleshire, R.A.: The case of free transit. Current 135, 19–22 (1971)Google Scholar
  3. Antov, D.: Preconditions for the introduction of free public transport in Tallinn. Free Public Transport—A Brave Step Towards the Green Capital, Tallinn (2012)Google Scholar
  4. Ariès, P.: Liberté, égalité, gratuité : pour la gratuité des services publics !. Golias, Villeurbanne (2011)Google Scholar
  5. Banister, D.: The sustainable mobility paradigm. Transp. Policy 15, 73–80 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baum, H.J.: Free public transport. J. Transp. Econ. Policy 7, 3–19 (1973)Google Scholar
  7. Briche, H.: Dunkerque, «laboiratoire» de la gratuité des transports en commun. Retour sur les effets de la gratuité partielle. Vigs, Agence d’Urbanisme Flandre-Dunkerque (2017a)Google Scholar
  8. Briche, H., Huré, M.: Dunkerque, nouveau « laboratoire» de la gratuité des transports—Métropolitiques (2017b).
  9. Brie, M.: Private E-Car vs. Public Transport for free —Real Dystopia versus Concrete Utopia. Presented at the Denver (2012)Google Scholar
  10. Brown, J., Hess, D.B., Shoup, D.: Unlimited access. Transportation 28, 233–267 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brown, J., Hess, D.B., Shoup, D.: Fare-free public transport at universities. An evaluation. J. Plan. Educ. Res. 23, 69–82 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. CAPAE: Les actes de la première rencontre des collectivités pionnières dans la gratuité des transports publics (2012)Google Scholar
  13. CAPAE: Liberté, égalité, gratuité. Lignes de l’agglo, Aubagne (2013)Google Scholar
  14. Cats, O., Reimal, T., Susilo, Y.: Public transport pricing policy—empirical evidence from a fare-free scheme in Tallinn, Estonia. Presented at the 93rd Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC, January (2014)Google Scholar
  15. Cats, O., Susilo, Y.O., Reimal, T.: The prospects of fare-free public transport: evidence from Tallinn. Transportation 44, 1083–1104 (2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. CERTU: Le débat : la gratuité des Transports Collectifs Urbains? (2010)Google Scholar
  17. Cervero, R.: Transit pricing research. Transportation 17, 117–139 (1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. City of Corvallis: Climate Action Plan for Corvallis, Oregon. City of Corvallis, Corvallis (2015)Google Scholar
  19. Claux, M.: La ville mobile gouvernée : intercommunalités, politiques de déplacements et trajectoires de développement dans la Région Urbaine Marseillaise (2014)Google Scholar
  20. Comune di Bologna: Bologna non deve soffocare: : proposte per il riodino del traffico cittadino, Bologna (1972)Google Scholar
  21. Cordier, B.: La gratuité totale des transports collectifs urbains : effets sur la fréquentation et intérêts. Bureau d’études en transports en déplacements (ADETEC), Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie (ADEME) (2007)Google Scholar
  22. Cosse, E.: Feu vert. Vacarme 50, 42 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Danish Board of Technology: Perspektiver ved indførelse af gratis offentlig transport: vurderinger og anbefalinger fra en arbejdsgruppe under Teknologirådet. Teknologirådet, København (2006)Google Scholar
  24. Dellheim, J.: “Free Public Transport by Decree” Versus Transformation. Presented at the Berlin, March (2016)Google Scholar
  25. Domencich, T.A., Kraft, G.: Free Transit. D. C. Heath & Co., Lexington (1970)Google Scholar
  26. Donin, D.: Fare-Less Public Transit, Impact on Ridership: Policy Review of Corvallis, Oregon’s Recently Implemented Fare-less Transit System (2013)Google Scholar
  27. Doumayrou, V.: Gratuité : le rôle pilote des villes moyennes. Le Monde Diplomatique 10, I–II (2012)Google Scholar
  28. Duhamel, Y.: Gratuité des transports publics urbains et répartition modale. Retour sur rapport final. Axiales/Programme de recherche et d’innovation dans les transports terrestres (PREDIT), Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie (ADEME) (2004)Google Scholar
  29. Fearnley, N.: Public transport subsidies in the UK: evidence of distributional effects. World Transp. Policy Pract. 12, 30–39 (2006)Google Scholar
  30. Fearnley, N.: Free fares policies: impact on public transport mode share and other transport policy goals. Int. J. Transp. 1, 75–90 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fix, M., Ribeiro, G.E., Prado, A.D.: Mobilidade urbana e direito à cidade: uma entrevista com Lúcio Gregori sobre transporte coletivo e Tarifa Zero. Rev. Bras. Estud. Urbanos Reg. 17, 175 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. FNAUT: La FNAUT : bilan et perspectives d’avenir. Conférence de presse. Fédération Nationale des Associations d’Usagers des Transports, Paris (2015)Google Scholar
  33. Giovanangelli, M., Sagot-Duvauroux, J.-L.: Voyageurs sans ticket - Liberté, égalité, gratuité: une expérience sociale à Aubagne. Au Diable Vauvert, Vauvert (2012)Google Scholar
  34. Ônibus começam a circular em Maricá, RJ, com tarifa zero. (2014).
  35. Gomes, D.: Quem paga a conta? CNT Transp. Atual. 246, 17–23 (2016)Google Scholar
  36. Greenspan, H.P.: The case for prepaid transit. Transit J. 1, 57–63 (1976)Google Scholar
  37. Grengs, J.: The abandoned social goals of public transit in the neoliberal city of the USA. City 9, 51–66 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hodge, D.C., Orrell, J.D., Strauss, T.R.: Fare-free Policy: Costs, Impacts on Transit Service and Attainment of Transit System Goals. Washington State Department of Transportation, Seattle, Washington (1994)Google Scholar
  39. Hofmann, P.: Rome Offers Free Transit Rides in Test to Reduce Auto Traffic. (1971)
  40. Hofmann, P.: Rome Ending Its No‐Fare Test; Commuter Bus Tickets Planned. (1972)
  41. van Hulten, M.: Gratis openbaar vervoer. Kluwer, Deventer (1972)Google Scholar
  42. Isacsson, L.: Equality and growth. Fare free public transport in Avesta municipality. Fare free public transport as a growth factor, Avesta (2015)Google Scholar
  43. Kębłowski, W.: Moving past sustainable mobility towards a critical perspective on urban transport. A right to the city-inspired analysis of fare-free public transport, PhD thesis (2018)Google Scholar
  44. Kębłowski, W., Bassens, D.: “All transport problems are essentially mathematical”: the uneven resonance of academic transport and mobility knowledge in Brussels. Urban Geogr. 3, 413–437 (2018)Google Scholar
  45. Kębłowski, W., Tuvikene, T., Pikner, T., Jauhiainen, J.: Towards an urban political geography of transport: unpacking the political and scalar dynamics of fare-free public transport in Tallinn, Estonia. Environ. Plan. C Polit. Space (2019)Google Scholar
  46. Kipfer, S.: Free Transit and Beyond. (2012)
  47. Kitchin, R.: The real-time city? Big data and smart urbanism. GeoJournal 79, 1–14 (2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kleiner, Y.S.: Racial profiling in the name of national security: protecting minority travlers’ civil liberties in the age of terrorism. Boston Coll. Third World Law J. 30, 103–144 (2010)Google Scholar
  49. Larrabure, M.: The struggle for the new commons in the Brazilian free transit movement. Stud. Polit. Econ. 97, 175–194 (2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lane Transit District: Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 2016–2017. Lane Transit District, Eugene, Oregon (2018)Google Scholar
  51. Ługowski, Ł.: Renesans komunikacji zbiorowej (2017)Google Scholar
  52. Maricato, E. (ed.): Cidades Rebeldes: Passe Livre e as Manifestações que Tomaram as Ruas do Brasil. Boitempo, São Paulo (2013)Google Scholar
  53. Niang, M.: Politiker rasar mot kontroller av papperslösa | SVT Nyheter (2013).
  54. Observatoire des mobilités: Les résultats de 2014 en chiffres. Tableaux de bord détaillé de l’Observatoire. Observatoire des mobilités, Marseille (2015)Google Scholar
  55. O’Reilly, D.M.: An Analysis of Concessionary Bus Fare Schemes for OAPs Using the 1985/86 National Travel Survey. Department of Transport, London (1990)Google Scholar
  56. Perkowski, R.: Three Years of Free Public Transport in Ząbki. International Free Public Transport conference, Żory (2014)Google Scholar
  57. Perone, J.S.: Advantages and Disadvantages of Fare-Free Transport Policy. National Center for Transportation Research, Tampa (2002)Google Scholar
  58. Philipson, M., Willis, D.: Free public transport for all? In: Australasian Transport Research Forum, pp. 623–640 (1990)Google Scholar
  59. The Traffic Power Structure (2016)Google Scholar
  60. Prefeitura de Maricá: Fim do monopólio: transporte público é gratuito em Maricá | Prefeitura de Maricá. (2014)
  61. Prefeitura de Maricá: Vermelhinhos: circulação não será interrompida | Prefeitura de Maricá. (2015)
  62. Prefeitura de Maricá: Prefeitura lança projeto “Viaje com Leitura” nos Vermelhinhos | Prefeitura de Maricá. (2017)
  63. Prince, J., Dellheim, J. (eds.): Free Public Transport and Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators. Black Rose Books, Montréal (2018)Google Scholar
  64. Ramböll: Trafikanalys. Litteraturstudie avgiftsfri kollektivtrafik. Ramböll Sverige AB, Malmö (2015)Google Scholar
  65. Rensonnet, J.: Les Ecolos bruxellois dézippent leurs sweats pour que la STIB « arrête sa complicité dans les arrestations de sans-papiers » . (2018).
  66. Rice, S.K., Parkin, W.S.: New avenues for profiling and bias research. The question of Muslim Americans. Presented at the New York and London (2010)Google Scholar
  67. Robert, M.: Transports publics urbains: Textes sur la gratuité, Carfree France Editions (2015)Google Scholar
  68. Salem Area Mass Transit District: Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2012, Salem, Oregon (2012)Google Scholar
  69. Salem Area Mass Transit District: Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Fiscal Years Ended June 30, 2014 and 2013, Salem, Oregon (2014a)Google Scholar
  70. Salem Area Mass Transit District: Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Fiscal Years Ended June 30, 2013 and 2012, Salem, Oregon (2014b)Google Scholar
  71. Santana, B., Silva, D.B.: Brasil: «No es por 0, 20. Es por los derechos»: Las demandas en las calles y la política en red. Nueva Sociedad 247, 4–15 (2013)Google Scholar
  72. Savisaar, E.: Ühistransport olgu Tallinnas tasuta. (2012)
  73. Schein, R.: Free transit and social movement infrastructure: assessing the political potential of Toronto’s nascent free transit campaign. Altern. Routes J. Crit. Soc. Res. 22, 115–122 (2011)Google Scholar
  74. Scheiner, J.I.: Exploding the myths of prepaid transit. Transit J. 2, 57–64 (1976)Google Scholar
  75. Scheiner, J.I., Starling, G.: The political economy of free-fare transit. Urban Aff. Rev. 10, 170–184 (1974)Google Scholar
  76. Shen, J.X., Zheng, S.K.: Fare-free public transit service: experience from Gaoping city of China. Adv. Transp. Stud. 1, 10 (2015)Google Scholar
  77. Storchmann, K.: Externalities by automobiles and fare-free transit in Germany—a paradigm shift? J. Public Transp. 6, 5 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Studenmund, A.H., Connor, D.: The free-fare transit experiments. Transp. Res. Part A Gen. 16, 261–269 (1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Thøgersen, J., Møller, B.: Breaking car use habits: the effectiveness of a free one-month travelcard. Transportation 35, 329–345 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Tsjeng, Z.: Why is the UK border agency racially profiling people on the tube? VICE. (2013).
  81. UTP: La gratuité dans les transports publics urbains : une fausse bonne idée. Union des Transports Publics et ferroviaries, Paris (2011)Google Scholar
  82. van Goeverden, C., Rietveld, P., Koelemeijer, J., Peeters, P.: Subsidies in public transport. Eur. Transp 32, 5–25 (2006)Google Scholar
  83. Verlinghieri, E., Venturini, F.: Exploring the right to mobility through the 2013 mobilizations in Rio de Janeiro. J. Transp. Geogr. (2017)Google Scholar
  84. Volinski, J.: Implementation and Outcomes of Fare-Free Transit Systems. A Synthesis of Transit Practice. Transport Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, DC (2012)Google Scholar
  85. Yaden, D.: Fareless transit in the portland metropolitan region. Fareless Transit System Research Workgroup. Parsons, Brinkeroff, Quade, and Douglas, Inc. (1998)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.COSMOPOLIS Centre for Urban ResearchVrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Institut de Gestion de l’Environnement et d’Aménagement du Territoire (IGEAT)Université Libre de BruxellesBrusselsBelgium

Personalised recommendations