Free Public Transport

Making buses and all other public transport apart from high-speed trains and planes free is a good economic proposition anywhere, regardless of the size of the country and the wealth of the population – except where people are so poor they don’t normally travel at all, and there you might want to provide free public transport anyway.

You’ll always get objections from car users who don’t want to use public transport, but they benefit in reduced congestion which saves them time and fuel. They’re probably still out of pocket because of the increase in taxes, but that’s the price of having private transport. Everyone else is in pocket – their increased tax bill is far smaller than their saving in fares or motoring costs, because the actual resource and environmental cost of the combined system is less. You also save all the costs of actually collecting fares.

The benefits are potentially huge:

This should be done before, or at the same time as, putting up fossil fuel taxes. Best not to try to force people to go green without some carrots as well as sticks.

In some places it might be desirable to charge fares at peak times, to manage demand. This should be regarded as a last resort, or a temporary measure, because it has costs, in infrastructure, labour, and inconvenience.

The reason I exclude high-speed trains and planes is that they’re environmentally unfriendly – wasteful of energy. I’d make an exception for high-speed trains on routes where there isn’t a more environmentally friendly alternative, such as a normal speed train.

It’s worth thinking about how air travel manages to be so cheap: airlines don’t pay tax on their fuel! What a terrible anomaly in an age when people are becoming conscious of the environmental impact of fossil fuel combustion.

Airlines are sometimes subsidized by tourist destinations too – either directly, or through subsidies to airports.