Zero-fare public transport: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Zero-fare public transport, also often called free public transport or free public transit, is a network of transport services funded in full by means other than collecting a fare from passengers. It may be funded by national, regional or local government through taxation or by commercial sponsorship by businesses.


Types of zero-fare transport


City-wide systems

Several mid-size European cities and many smaller towns around the world have converted their entire bus 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[1].

see list below

Local services

Local zero-fare shuttles or inner-city loops are far more common than city-wide 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.

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. Some 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. Even 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 school buses, where the students do not need to pay in many cases.

Benefits of zero-fare transport

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.[2]

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.[citation needed] 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.

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

Town/City Population Operator notes
Aubagne, France since 2000
Cache Valley, Utah since 2000
Camano Island, Washington 13,358 Island Transit since 1995
Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina 70,000+ Chapel Hil Transit Operated by the Town of Chapel Hill to serve Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill; supported by taxpayers and University fee-payers. The system has been fare-free since 2002.
Châteauroux, France
Clemson, South Carolina Clemson Area Transit partnership between Clemson University and surrounding communities
Commerce, California 41,000 All Transportation Services Are Free of Charge[3]
Compiègne, France 12,500 since 1990s[4]
Coral Gables, Florida
Hasselt, Belgium 72,000 H-lijn since July 1, 1997; 1300% ridership
Island of Hawai'i, HI, USA 148,677 (as of 2000) Hawai'i County Mass Transit Agency Hele-On bus offers free islandwide passenger service on all scheduled routes[5]
Logan, Utah since 1992
Lübben, Germany 14,500 influenced by Hasselt
Manises, Spain [6]
Mariehamn, Åland 11,000 in addition to free bus services, persons and bicycles travel free of charge with the archipelago ferries (you pay a fee for motorcycles, cars, caravans and other vehicles).
Nova Gorica, Slovenia 31,000 since April 2006.
Övertorneå, Sweden 2,000 even 70 km free rides on local buses in this rural community
Türi, Estonia 6,174
Vail, Colorado 4,589 over 20 hours of service every day during Winter
Vitré, France since spring 2001.
Whidbey Island, Washington 58,211 Island Transit since 1987
Zagreb, Croatia c.800,000 Zagreb Municipal Transit System (ZET) since May 2009
Třeboň, Czech Republic 8,700 ČSAD Jindřichův Hradec a. s. between February 2002 and August 2007, under the mayor Jiří Houdek (KDU-ČSL), city transport has only one bus line (No 340300), influenced by USA school buses
Prague, Czech Republic 1,285,000 many operators (first of all Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy) between 2002 August 15 (ca) and 2002 August 25, during the Vltava flood and flooding of the Prague metro. Also always during time of the smog or other emergency situation (used rarely - 1996/1997 for 2 day, 1992/1993 for 4 days[7]).[8]
Hořovice, Czech Republic 6,800 Probo Trans Beroun s. r. o. since March 2008, city tranport has only one bus line (No 210009 alias C09 or C9)
Valašské Meziříčí, Czech Republic 27,300 ČSAD Vsetín a. s. between Juni 14 and July 14th 2009, city tranport has 5 bus lines
Přelouč, Czech Republic 9,000 Veolia Transport Východní Čechy a. s. between 2009 Dezember 01 and 2010 March 06, initial price at the newly established first city bus line (No 665101)

Examples of limited zero-fare transport

  • AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Science), New Delhi, India has a fleet of battery operated vans running round the clock, to ferry people from the new far located parking area to the main building.
  • Adelaide, Australia has free travel on the Glenelg tram within the CBD ([2]) as well as a free bi-directional loop route 99C (City Loop) in the CBD. ([3]) The free tram has replaced the previous 99B Bee line bus which used to ply from the Railway Station to Victoria Square, via King William Road. In addition, the suburbs of Glenelg and Port Adelaide have their respective free community bus services. The Tram also has a free service between Brighton Road and Jetty Road in Glenelg.
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan – free bus services between University of Michigan campuses and student housing. Note that most large universities provide a similar kind of bus service. The city bus service, the AATA, is free for students, faculty, and staff of the University of Michigan. The AATA also runs a service called "the Link" which runs between downtown and campus area and is currently free (for everyone) to ride. While individual rides are "free," typically students pay a transportation service fee as part of their tuition and fee charges.
  • Auckland, New Zealand – a free CBD loop service links the ferry terminus, railway station, universities, theatres, casino, galleries and shopping districts using hybrid electric buses.
  • Austin, Texas – free bus service (under citywide bus system Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority) is provided to University of Texas students / staff / faculty, uniformed police, fire, and military personal, and City of Austin employees.[9] "Ozone Action Days" were once offered to encourage more car owners to ride the bus and combat high levels of ozone pollution on a given day, but this Capital Metro has discontinued this service.
  • Bangkok, Thailand – free bus service on 800 buses along 73 routes[4].
  • Birmingham, England - In 2006 a free bus link around the city centre was launched, known as Birmingham Stationlink, however after considerably low passenger usage this service was withdrawn in December 2007 after just over 18 months of service.
  • Brisbane, Australia has free bus trips around "The Loop" in the CBD on two routes mirroring each other, varying only because of Brisbane's one-way street grid.
  • Buffalo, New York – Free Metro Rail transit from Special Events Station to Theater Station.
  • Calais, France – Free bus called the Balad'in runs from the beach to the Theatre and back every 10 minutes.
  • Calgary, Canada – Free C-Train light rail transit within the downtown core (the "7th Avenue Free Fare Zone").
  • Cardiff, Wales – The Free b free shuttle bus circles the city centre.[10]
  • Charlottesville, Virginia – A free motorized trolley links the campus of the University of Virginia to the downtown area.
  • Christchurch, New Zealand – The Shuttle is a zero-fare shuttle service in the inner city.
  • Dallas, Texas – McKinney Avenue Transit Authority heritage trolley transports riders along a three-mile stretch from downtown to uptown McKinney Avenue seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  • Denver, Colorado – Free 16th Street Mall shuttle bus downtown.
  • Dordrecht – bus and ferry, some Saturdays at the end of each year.
  • Eugene, Oregon and Springfield, Oregon – Free Emerald Express (EmX) service between the cities of Eugene and Springfield.
  • Ghent – free night bus services (weekends only).
  • Greater Manchester, England:
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia – Free bus route around the downtown area.
  • Invercargill, New Zealand:
    • The Freebie – a zero-fare loop service in the inner city.[11]
    • The Purple Circle a free suburban bus circuit.[12]
    • All other suburban bus services operate zero-fare between 9:00 am and 2:30 pm daily.[12]
  • Ipswich, England – A free shuttle bus service runs on a circular route around the town centre linking the site of the former County Council head-quarters to the replacement building.[13]
  • Maui County, Hawaii, pop 128,000: Maui Bus, on the Kahului and Wailuku Loop, plus the Lahaina Villager Routes.[14]
  • Manly, New South Wales, Australia – Four routes of free "Hop, Skip & Jump" minibus services throughout the municipality.[15]
  • Marousi, a wealthy northern suburb in Athens, Greece has small municipal bus shuttles (of red colour) which can be used for free by anyone.
  • Melbourne in Australia has a free tram around the city center, and a free bus to popular tourist attractions. Both of these connect to other public transport. Free public transport is sometimes offered on major holidays such as Christmas and New Year's Eve.
  • Miami, FloridaMiami Metromover is a free people mover in Downtown Miami.
  • Mountain Village, Colorado – Free cable car to Telluride and shuttle bus.[16]
  • Newcastle, New South Wales in Australia has a free bus service that operates in the CBD area between 7:30 am and 6:00 pm.
  • New York City, USA and vicinity:
  • Noordwijk/OegstgeestLeiden Transferium – The Hague, express bus, running on weekdays during daytime, free of charge as a test during 2004; it was intended for commuters working in The Hague and living in Leiden or beyond who would otherwise travel by car to the Hague, to promote parking at the Transferium and continuing the journey by bus; the aim was to reduce road traffic congestion between Leiden and The Hague. The test was paid by the province of South Holland. It was discontinued in 2005.
  • Perth, Western Australia has free bus and train trips around the city centre (the "Free Transit Zone"), including three high-frequency Central Area Transit (CAT) bus loops. This is also in Fremantle and recently added in Joondalup.
  • Philadelphia, PA offers free transportation between terminals A through E of Philadelphia International Airport on the Septa R1 Airport Line Trains, which run every 30 minutes. Transportation on this train into Center City Philadelphia and other destinations is available but requires payment. Transportation between the airport terminals can also be accomplished by using concourses and moving walkways and through two free shuttle bus routes operated by US Airways.
  • Pittsburgh, PA offers free public transit within their downtown areas.
  • Portland, Oregon – All streetcar and light rail trips are free within the "Free Rail Zone"[5], a 330 square-block zone, encompassing most of downtown Portland. (Until January 3, 2010, bus trips were also free.)
  • Quebec City, Canada offers free travel on its electric bus service (dubbed "écolobus") in the downtown core. ([6])
  • Reading, Berkshire, England – Free shuttle between Reading railway station and Thames Valley Park[17]
  • Renesse (mun. Schouwen-Duiveland), Netherlands – free bus services in the area (in summer only)
  • Sacramento, California – A free shuttle is operated between the arrival/departure terminals and the rental car facilities at Sacramento International Airport.
  • San Jose, California – The Santa Clara VTA runs a free bus in downtown San Jose connecting the San Jose Diridon Station with San Jose State University. This bus is called DASH. There's also a free bus that connects VTA light rail, the Santa Clara CalTrain station, and the San Jose Mineta International Airport. This bus is route 10, called the Free Flyer.
  • Seattle, Washington – Metro Transit buses are free from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm in Downtown Seattle (the "Ride Free Area").[18]
  • South Yorkshire, England, in the two locations of Sheffield and Rotherham, zero-fare city/town centre circular routes operate under the FreeBee branding, the first in the city of Sheffield was launched in 2007, and after its success the scheme was rolled out to Rotherham in 2009. Both are funded by Travel South Yorkshire/SYPTE(a member of the Travel South Yorkshire Partnership).
    • Rotherham – FreeBee runs from Rotherham Interchange every 12 minutes from 08:00 to 18:00 Monday to Saturday.
    • Sheffield, England – FreeBee runs around the city centre, Monday to Saturday, every seven minutes.
  • Southampton, England – City-link bus between Southampton Central railway station, WestQuay shopping Centre and Town Quay for the Isle of Wight Ferries. It is operated for Southampton City Council by Bluestar.
  • State College, PennsylvaniaCATA runs four routes that offer bus service between the Penn State campus and downtown State College, an addition to two regional service routes that do not charge fare if they are only traveling across campus.
  • Sydney in Australia Free downtown city bus loop, also offers occasional free public transport travel to and from events at particular times, notably New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney CBD, or to ANZAC War Memorial Services for veterans. The rationale is a mix of traffic reduction and cultural recognition. During the two weeks of the 2000 Olympic Games all public transport was free if you had an admission ticket, however everyone ended up traveling free because the normal ticketing system was abandoned.
  • Tarbes in France offers a year-long free shuttle bus around the city, linking the main spots.
  • Tirumalai (Tirupati), India – Free buses run by Temple authority to visit the nearby religious centres on the top of the hill.
  • West Yorkshire, England, four of the larger settlements covered by the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive have Zero-fare bus services which are jointly funded by WY Metro, local councils and private companies. The services are branded either FreeTownBus or FreeCityBus, depending on whether the location is a town or city:
    • Bradford - FreeCityBus - a free loop service around the city centre.
    • Dewsbury - FreeTownBus - the latest FreeTownBus in West Yorkshire, it was launched in December 2009.
    • Huddersfield - FreeTownBus - a free loop around the town centre operated by K-Line Travel
    • Leeds - FreeCityBus - a free circular route around Leeds, the first of the FreeTownBus and FreeCityBus routes to be established within West Yorkshire
    • Wakefield - FreeCityBus - free circular route around the city centre
  • Hradec Králové, Czech Republic – all city buses and trolleybuses between the main train station and the new central bus terminal, since 2008 July 5.

Perception and analysis

From the vantage of the role of public transport as one of a broad range of major non-car options available to serve the community as a whole (the New Mobility Agenda), what is important in this instance is that the service is perceived as being free, exactly as is the case of the mind set of most people when they decide to take their car somewhere, and certainly for short trips. The Catch-22 of the car-based, no-choice old mobility system is that the car trip is not in fact free, far from it, 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 is becomes (a) front-loaded and (b) 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 have since the mid-seventies had their own Carte Orange – the remainder of the funds needed to pay for these services come from other sources (mainly in this case from employers, local government).

Left-wing advocacy groups, such as the Swedish network, see zero-fare public transport as an effort in the redistribution of wealth.[19] 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.[20]


The fact that most public transport is not "zero-fare" is evidence that there are arguments against this policy option. Some of these arguments include:

  • Fairness. Some people's transport needs may not be well-served by the public transport network, and yet they (as tax-payers) are forced to contribute to the cost of the service. At least in ideal economic models, user-pays systems lead to the most efficient allocation of scarce resources. Could the cost of paying for the public transport be better spent elsewhere?
  • Financial sustainability. Any extension or improvement to the public transport service must be fully funded from the public purse: being free, it cannot recover part of its cost from increased farebox revenue. As patronage on the system increases, so does the cost of provision. This may create resistance to measures to improve public transport or promote public transport use.
  • Crowding. Fares can be used to moderate demand. If cheaper fares are available off-peak, then people with more flexibility have an incentive to travel at off-peak times. This results in more effective use of limited resources. (Demand management is also used in telecommunications and energy markets.) It could be anticipated that a free service would be particularly crowded at peak times.
  • Impact on car industry. Greater public transport means that people use fewer cars; as a result, car manufacturers and service providers (e.g. mechanics, gas stations, etc) can go out of business.


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