Fare-free public transport since 1st March 2020

Why did Luxembourg introduce fare-free public transport on 1st March 2020?

The free public transport was part of the 2018 government coalition agreement. Even before 1st March 2020, public transport in Luxembourg was subsidized at a rate of 90 to 94%, and free for certain groups of users. Taking a further step and eliminating tickets was coherent with Luxembourg’s national mobility strategy Modu 2.0 (www.modu2.lu), which promotes the use of public transport. When the national government announced that the public transport offer which it was responsible for would become free, the organizing municipalities of additional public transport, including the city of Luxembourg, decided to align with this policy.

The free public transport removes an additional barrier to take a bus, tram, or train. It is anticipated that as new users spontaneously discover public transport and are satisfied with its quality, they will gradually use it more frequently. Another intention was to provide economic support to individuals with low income.

Who can benefit from free public transport in Luxembourg?

In Luxembourg, all trips by public train (except for first class), tram or bus that do not cross-national borders are free for everyone, including tourists.

Are cross-border public transports also free?

Cross-border tickets for trains and buses have become cheaper due to the Luxembourgish part of the journey, but they still cover the French, German or Belgian part of the fare. Therefore, cross-border tickets have become significantly cheaper, but not free.

What has been the impact of free public transport in Luxembourg?

The free public transport in Luxembourg has attracted global attention and has significantly contributed to the positive image of Luxembourg abroad, enhancing its appeal as an economic hub.

At a national level, it has fueled ongoing discussions about public transportation and the transformation of Luxembourg’s multimodal mobility offer in general. The ability to take any bus, tram, or train spontaneously without the need to purchase a ticket is highly valued by users. An empirical indication of this is an increase in short trips on the tram line.

The Luxembourg’s Institute of Socio-Economic Research analyses further impacts of free public transport, and can be contacted for additional information at: https://freepublictransport.net

Was it expected that many people would switch from commuting by car to using public transport?

No significant mode shift was expected in the short term: evidence shows that the determining factor in choosing a mode of transportation is its perceived quality (comfort, reliability, total travel time, total cost, etc.). On a national and international level, abrupt modal changes are only observed during periods of significant changes in the transport offer, either because a new, attractive offer has been added or an existing and widely used offer has become unavailable.

On 1st March 2020, the day when public transport became free in Luxembourg, there were no such changes, including pricing: in Luxembourg, using public transport has always been significantly cheaper than driving a car, even when public transport was still a paid service (50€ per month or 4€ per day for the entire country).

Therefore, there were no precipitating factors for a sudden shift to public transportation. However, in the long term, the elimination of ticketing should encourage spontaneous use, and thus accelerate the discovery of the extensive public transport offer in Luxembourg. This aligns perfectly with the Luxembourgish mobility strategy Modu 2.0, aiming to continuously improve the quality of the transport offer and influence long-term behaviors. It will continue to be implemented with the measures outlined in the National Mobility Plan 2035 (www.pnm2035.lu).

Has there been a significant modal shift that can be attributed to the introduction of free public transport?

No significant mode shift has been observed that could unequivocally be attributed to the introduction of free public transport. Besides the fact that such a sudden mode shift was not anticipated (see the previous question), there are several possible explanations for this:

  • Public transport fares were easy clear and affordable even before 1st March 2020 (50€ for a national monthly ticket, 4€ for a daily ticket).
  • Just three weeks after the introduction of free public transport, the Luxembourgish government implemented unprecedented public health measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, travel performance (i.e., distance travelled) on Luxembourgish infrastructures dropped. During the period of uncertainty and subsequent new measures, the recovery was slow and arguably still not complete. In fact, the pandemic might have altered mobility behaviors. A crucial change was the rapid and widespread adoption of remote work, which could persist in certain sectors of the economy.
  • While COVID has generally reduced mobility, mobility offers in Luxembourg have improved. For instance, the extension of the tram line from the city of Luxembourg to the central station in December 2020 increased ridership on that tram line by 450%, making public transportation overall more attractive.
  • Hence, even without the pandemic, any comparison of mode shares between January 2020 (before the introduction of free public transport) and January 2021 (when it was free) should consider the impact of these fundamental improvements to the public transport offer.
  • Usage data for public transport in Luxembourg, i.e., the number of passengers on different services over time, is incomplete and uneven between modes. For example, all trams are fully equipped with automatic passenger counting systems, but only the newest trains and about half of all regional buses have them. The new “Digital mobility observatory - www.ODM.lu” from the ministry has been established to help overcome these challenges in the years ahead.
Were there specific concerns related to free public transport, and have these concerns proven to be justified?

One of the concerns was that public transport would be flooded with opportunistic passengers, taking the capacity away from existing users. Although there are welcome indications of additional opportunistic use of public transport, this factor alone has not led to any capacity constraints.

A frequently expressed cliché was that people would associate “free” with “poor quality”, thereby discouraging new users from trying public transportation. This has been proven wrong on all accounts. Furthermore, due to the government's persistent communication about the actual importance of its investments in public transportation, the public is aware that tax money pays for public transport, and its service is neither cheap nor of poor quality.

Finally, there was a worry that the absence of ticket controls would reduce safety and hygiene on public transport vehicles. To prevent this, trains always have attendants and procedures are in place. to expel individuals misbehaving on trains, trams, and buses.

What is the central role of free public transport in Luxembourg's transportation policy? At the heart of Luxembourg’s mobility strategy are sustained investments in a truly multimodal transport offer, as outlined in the National Mobility Plan 2035 (www.pnm2035.lu). Over the past decade, Luxembourg has prioritized investments in public transport and active mobility than in infrastructures solely dedicated to car travel. Luxembourg now invests more per capita in rail mobility than any other country in Europe. Free public transport aligns with this strategy. In terms of modal shift, free public transport is the icing on the cake, with the cake being investments in a coherent and high-quality multimodal transport offering that is understood and appreciated by the public.

How does Luxembourg’s -free public transport compare to widely discussed international fare structures, such as Vienna’s annual ticket for 365€ or the German summer experience with a monthly ticket for 9€ in 2022?

The free public transport in Luxembourg shares two features with initiatives like an annual subscription for 365€ or a monthly subscription for 9€: it covers a large geographical area (in this case an entire country) and it is easy to remember. Such fare structures level the playing field in terms of convenience, making public transport as straightforward to use as a personal car: just walk to public transport, get on, and reach your destination.

How is Luxembourg’s free public transport financed?

Transport subsidies are funded through the general budget, i.e., taxes. It is important to note that the additional subsidy required for the complete free public transport in Luxembourg is not deducted but added to the substantial budgets allocated for improving infrastructure and multimodal transport offers.

Is fare-free public transport a solution for other countries, regions, or cities?

A successful tariff structure for public transport must be easily understandable and memorable; and it must remain affordable not only for the users, but also for the operators, who need substantial funds (either from tickets or subsidies) to invest in a high-quality service. Luxembourg embarked on this journey with an already simple (all tickets covering the entire country), affordable (4€ for a one-day ticket, 50€ for a monthly ticket), and heavily subsidized fare structure (90% or more). Therefore, making public transport entirely fare-free was an incremental step, though a spectacular one in terms of enhancing access to public transport.

An attractive tariff structure is however not sufficient. The key to making public transportation fundamentally more attractive is to invest in a high-quality multimodal offer that is not focused on spectacular stand-alone projects, but rather addresses the daily mobility needs of the population, as identified by large-scale representative surveys.

The publication of a credible long-term strategy to improve the quality of public transportation is also important, as it provides users with the assurance that certain aspects of the current service they may not appreciate could improve over time (www.pnm2035.lu).

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