The decision to make public transport free in the French town of Dunkirk (Nord) has been hailed a success after a rise in passenger use, and “new dynamism” in the city centre.
The town made public transport 100% free in October 2018. Now, the results of the first evaluation appear positive, and show a considerable increase in passenger numbers.
Free transport has been seen as a social, economic, and ecological step forward for the town, which was the first of its size in Europe to roll out such a scheme.
Mayor Patrice Vergriete chose to encourage residents to use greener forms of transport, rather than punish them for not doing so. The measure was also intended to help people get out of the house more easily, so that they feel less isolated.
He said: “We need to move transport forward. Rather than do it with limitations, we wanted to do it with incentives. Encouraging people to accept this ecological transition.”
Figures show bus use during the week rose by 70%, and by 140% during the weekends.
The free network has now been expanded, and more roads have bus-only lanes to encourage smoother transit. The town has also brought in 14 new buses, of which three are electric.
Shopkeepers in the centre of town have also reported an increase in business due to more people coming into the city.
One Dunkirk said: “Before, I never took the bus, I always took the car. Now, I leave the car at home and I get to work more easily by bus. There is a bus every 10 minutes just down the road from my house. It is a lot more practical.”
The “free” transport costs the city €15 million per year, and is partly funded by business taxes. The town has also renounced other costly projects in favour of free transport, such as a new sports and culture centre.
Dunkirk’s success is said to be prompting interest in the scheme from other towns and cities, including Clermont-Ferrand, Calais, and even Paris.
Children already travel free in Paris, and around 30 other smaller towns in France have already offered a free bus scheme.