Two months ago, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, announced the launch of a study mission on the possibility of free public transport in Ile-de-France. Around twenty French municipalities, such as Niort (Deux-Sèvres), Compiègne (Oise) or Aubagne (Bouches-du-Rhône), have removed the pricing of its public transport. The measure is also running in Tallinn since 2013. Nevertheless, it has never been applied in a megacity as big as Paris.
The initiative’s main objective is to improve the quality of the air and protect the health of citizens. It is a shock measure to fight against pollution and congestion. Yet, the economic costs of the initiative have arisen doubts.
3 billion revenue losses
Offering free public transport in Paris implies losing almost 1/3 of the budget. In Ile-de-France, users pay 28% of the cost of public transport. Communities and operating revenues, such as advertising, fund the remaining 72%.
According to Regional councillor of Île-de-France, Valerie Pecresse, gratuity would remove 2.8 billion of revenue on the 10 billion euros managed by Ile-de-France Mobilités. In addition, the cost of running the infrastructure increases since gratuity attracts more commuters.
So the question is: who will compensate this shortfall?
Alternative funding channels
Free public transport in Paris could generate savings on fare gates and controllers. Nevertheless, the amount would be very small. Security staff would still be necessary to ensure safety and avoid incivilities since, according to experts, users tend to be less respectful when a service is free. Consequently, another sector has to pay to make up for the shortfall.
Economists and transport operators affirm that gratuity does not exist. They state that a financial windfall is substituted by another. In Paris’ case, Mayor Hidalgo suggested the possibility of a toll at the entrance of the city. Therefore, commuters who go by car to work to the city would finance buses and subways for Parisians.
Whatever the case, removing pricing is only a study for the moment. Furthermore, public transport fares in Ile-de-France are not the responsibility of the City of Paris, but Ile-de-France Mobilités.
Parisian gratuity precedent
Free transport is not new in Paris. As of June 1st, people over 65 enjoy a Navigo pass with total access to the entire Ile-de-France. The measure targets 200,000 elderly Parisians that earn less than 2,200 euros per month (3,400 euros for a couple). The 20,000 beneficiaries of the disabled adult allowance are also eligible. The city anticipates an expenditure of 12 million euros per year for this initiative.
Free public transport in Paris, the French exception
Whilst Paris considers offering free public transport, other French cities are focused on ensuring users pay for their use of the service. Many operators across the country are deploying fare gates to fight fare evasion.
Lille plans to implement fare gates in the network’s sixty stations by 2020. The objective is to reduce Transpole’s fare evasion rate to 5% by 2024. On the other hand, French operator SNCF intents to equip 14 major TGV stations with fare gates by 2018.