The Country Where All Public Transit Is Free
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The Country Where All Public Transit Is Free

February 29, 2020


Luxembourg is a small country.
It’s about 50 miles by 35 miles, with just over 600,000 people
living in it. And here in the capital,
Luxembourg City, around 200,000 people
commute into work every day, half from outside the country, but less than 20% of them
travel by public transit. But from Sunday, March 1st,
all public transit in the entire country will be free. Pretty soon, there’ll be no ticket machines,
unless you want an international ticket. There’ll be no fare dodgers,
unless you count people who are sneaking into the first-class train cabins
that you will still have to pay for. And on the face of it, free public transit
seems like an easy decision. Get people out of cars
and into buses and trains. But it’s a little more
complicated than that. – We are the country,
besides Qatar, with the highest degree of
cars per household, in Luxembourg, and we have definitely a big problem,
especially in peak hours, with enormous congestion problems. We have a problem also that
quality-of-life in our cities, in our villages, it’s really worsened. That comes because
Luxembourg is a country where you had not only the highest average
of economic growth in the last 25 years, but also our population growth
is the highest in the European Union. Having mobility behaviour
that is mainly based on individual cars cannot really function anymore, and at the end, it’s also a problem then
for our economy itself. – Making public transit free
is not a new idea. There are quite a few cities around the world
who’ve already done it, and a lot of Estonia now has
free public transit for residents. Luxembourg, though, is the first country
to abolish fares entirely, and partly that’s because it can afford to do it.
The country is a small, rich tax haven. The thing is, public transit here is
almost free already. A ticket valid for a full day on every
bus, tram, and train in the country is €4. The whole transit network costs the government
€700 million a year to operate, but all the tickets sold
add up to just 10% of that. By comparison, London’s transit network is
about half-funded by fares. So from the Luxembourg
government’s perspective, there’s not actually that much difference
between a €4 day ticket and free transit, but “free transit” is the sort of headline
that gets you a lot of good publicity. But hey, if transit is free,
why would you want to get around by car? Well, it’s because
the transit here isn’t great. It’s okay,
by European standards. The buses and trains will get you there.
I’ve had no problems as a tourist, but the commuter lines are
already overcrowded in rush hour. A lot of the rolling stock is dated,
and there is a litany of complaints about the paths they take
and how they deal with breakdowns. Driving here, even with the congestion,
is usually quicker and more convenient, sometimes even for journeys
directly between city centres. – So every year, there’s more and more
people moving here, and the infrastructure system
is under a lot of strain. So the needs are to make it work,
not to make it free. There’s lots of research on this,
and what comes out over and over again is that the fare is not
the main motivating factor. The main motivating factor is
comfort, reliability, and safety. No one ever knows if the trains are
actually going to be on time. It has happened that people are standing
for an hour and a half on the platform waiting for the train,
with no substitute buses or anything. So that’s an extreme case, obviously,
but if one wants to be somewhere on time, one has to take this into account,
that these things do happen. – The cities who are doing this
investment into public transport, into free public transport, that’s really the bit of cities that,
from a competitive point of view, will be, in the world,
the winning cities. Even if I say it’s free to use,
somebody pays it. So at the end, the 700 million euros
will be paid by the taxpayers in general. Someone, for example, with minimum income
pays no taxes. So he has the public transport,
really, for free, but somebody who pays high taxes,
he pays much more. – That’s an important point:
for someone like me, who’s a tourist with a travel budget,
€4 for a day pass isn’t a big issue, but for someone on minimum wage
who has to commute an hour, or two hours from wherever housing’s affordable,
that makes a big difference. – I don’t think the key social issue
in Luxembourg is the price of the transit. One needs to look at the housing costs. The increasing prices of housing
are pushing people to the border regions. So it might be financially more sound
to live in Belgium, or France and Germany, buy a house, or rent a house,
and buy a couple of cars, than it would be to live here in Luxembourg
and use the transit. It needs investment,
and it needs investment now. It’s behind. And so Luxembourg needs to catch up
and plan for the future. – You must see the
free public transport additionally to the investments
that we are doing in the improvement of the network
and the quality of the public transport. If you only introduce free public transport,
that will change not very much behaviour. It can only function if you do it combined
with a complete strategy that will switch from individual mobility
to multi-modality, so even including pedestrians, cyclists, and if you invest at the same time, a lot of money,
in the infrastructure of public transport, so that at the end,
you can combine everything. We say, if we built an infrastructure,
we will build it to move people and not to move cars. – I’m not saying free transit
is a bad thing. I think it’s a great idea, personally, but having good, frequent,
well-connected transit that isn’t too crowded to board
is also important. The question isn’t as binary as
“Should public transit be free?” because in a utopia,
of course it would be. It would also be autonomous,
zero-emission, and it would run from anywhere
to everywhere all the time. But until we’re in
a post-scarcity society, the public are paying one way or another,
either through taxes or fares. The more important question is about
planning and long-term investment, because if your bus is always late,
and your train’s always cancelled, it doesn’t matter if they’re free.

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  1. This wont work at all for a nation so small. Now if my £120 trip to London was free I would use it, but my £6 bus faire from one town to the next suddenly being free? nah. the HUGE benefit of private transport will always outweigh public transport. a 20 minute journey door to door becoming a 50 minute bus journey + 20 minutes walking at either end (so 40 minute walking). I would rather spend the money running a car than "save" £6 by using public transport.

    Then make the decision that you want to do a journey that involves more than 1 bit of public transport, well either you have to pray to the devil that all your connections are on time, or you start having to go "well if i have a 20 minute wait here, then a 32 minute wait here". before you know it you spend more time stood in stations than travelling.

    People joke that I walk to and from work that "no point giving you a lift becuse its probably quicker to walk" becuse they perceive themselves as being stuck in 5mph traffic for 20 minutes as being extremely slow, when it is still faster than public transport and walking. Public transport replaces walking, and that's it. it doesn't replace cars.

  2. my country, the philippines has a problem like this, to many cars but bad government managment and the like, so both public transit and private transit are really bad

  3. It's not free…nothing is free. Someone paid for it with taxes, but probably not Luxembourg people. They don't do such average poor people stuff. They do cocaine

  4. "tax haven" … that won't go down well with Lux authorities. Especially since they turned the country into a "tax nightmare" in 2013… otherwise, nice video and analysis!

  5. Awsome Video Tom, awsome Work! You put a lot of effort in it, what i can see. I love the b roll its realy diverse and good timed in many cases. i can tell you waited for your a roll part to wait for the train in the background. Nice

  6. how is the tax rate there, if transport is free then someone will still need to pay the public transport system companies?

  7. Guess who’s paying for that? Correct answer the EU and who takes the most money per capita from the EU? Correct answer Luxembourg… another reason the UK voted to leave. Let’s not mention the free Viagra for all the MEPs what a gravy train.

  8. Its possible in a small nation size of a city where there are 600,000 people who pay high taxes but even another small wealthy social democratic country like Denmark wouldn't be able to afford this since there is just too much distance and infrastructure costs a lot

  9. Gibraltar offers free bus services for all its residents, and yet most people will still prefer to take the car. More of a status thing than anything else. Meanwhile, workers who cross the border from Spain still have to pay for the bus from the frontier. Gibraltar still has a lot of congestion problems.

  10. I believe that they should make bicicle lanes and public bicicle services like in Amsterdam and Barcelona. This would really lower the car congestion, and be better for the environment. This has been applied to Barcelona and it's great here 😀

  11. Amazing how people all over the world complain about the same thing about public transit: delays, break downs and safety. However, no one really complains about traffic jams, road rage, accidents, cost of maintaining a car (besides all the environmental problems).
    Is public transport all really that bad? All over the world? Why is it worse arring late because of a delay in the train or because you were stuck in traffick, or had a flat tyre.
    I honestly think it is propaganda.

  12. solution for this small rich country, add a bus only lane to every major road. it should be in the middle of up and down traffic so that means its essentially a passing lane but make the fine for driving for more than a certain time in the bus lane huge. Police and emergency could use the lane too.

  13. While I love the idea of free public transportation, things without a cost usually end up in the same place as other things without value…the trash.

  14. Tom, what a very interesting video. I live in Belgium and I hailed the free public transport in Luxembourg as a big step towards lowering car use. But your video has made it clear that Luxembourg actually suffers from the same issues as we do here in Belgium: buses and trains are late and generally unreliable for getting somewhere on time. If public transport were free here in Belgium, I would still use my company-paid car. But then again, Belgium's quite a bit bigger than Luxembourg (and yet still so small!).

  15. Even if the richer person is subsidizing public transport with taxes, they still get benefits. Less road congestion= more cost efficient driving.

  16. To be honest though, it's very rare that busses or trains would be cancelled in Luxembourg. It's only happened to me a 5 or 6 times in my entire 18 years of living there even though I've nearly always used public transport (and regularly). Although it is true that the busses are often late, they are late nearly only during rush hour, which is absolutely a problem but not the worst problem in the world (and if I would travel via car I'd still be stuck in traffic, just for less time)

  17. Britain has the best system!!All roads are free except toll ones. The thing is those free roads their upkeep their digging up/diversions while those diggers & ghost workers are sent elsewhere to dig up more roads costs money which is payed for by ratepayers. In London its even better, the roads that you own are meterised yellow lined pedestrianised no entried an central zoned for which you have to pay congestion charge to enter the area to use your own road or parts thereof (remember they are public roads maintained by councils for which money is indirectly squeezed from your own pockets)
    Technically you are paying metered £4.00 an hour for parking your car on your own road. When you earn money govt taxes you for working then anytime you buy things or use services they charge you vat on money that already has tax paid on it. Council gets expenses paid by govt who in turn extracts it from petrol alcohol and other direct indirect taxes which is your money

  18. Its a good idea!! same as smart motorways!! They are all good brilliant until you look back on their disasters catastrophes and madness.

  19. Same issue in Los Angeles. I've waited longer for a bus/train than it would have taken to have just walked home… but you have no idea how long you're going to have to wait when the bus/train just random doesn't show up. Uber/Lyft are far more reliable

  20. Or you can get stuck with Justin Trudeau, who won't uphold the law and remove those who block the tracks. As was said, free fare isn't the main issue with public transit.

  21. People are blind, the REAL problem is having all those people travel crazy distances. Moving lots of people doesnt scale, its an impossible problem to solve.

    The more cars, trains that are added the worse the traffic and times become and the more people will travel even further.

    The answer is to stop people travelling, not to make it possible for MORE people to travel.

  22. The country with very high taxes and a high per capita income that subsidizes public transportation in an area the size of my county.

  23. Although this video is about Luxembourg, the lessons in it are universal. Failing to provide low-cost housing in the city causes people to live on the fringes of the city and failing to provide reliable, comfortable, low-cost public transport causes those same people living on the fringes to drive into the city and this adds to congestion which slows down the industry and commerce that powers your economy. That congestion also slows down the bus and tram networks which is a feedback loop that only causes more people to prefer to drive. Another feedback loop is parking which takes up enormous amounts of land space which makes everything further apart which makes walking and public transport less viable which makes more people prefer to drive and require parking when they get to their destination. Anything you can do to reduce single-person car usage in the city is going to benefit everyone.

  24. I think it’s great! But when you sit next to people farting and not taking a shower why would you NOT want to take your car! Also here in Germany public transport is getting worse by the day! And the people are often disgusting

  25. I am from Luxembourg, The main reason people use their car instead of the bus is because the smaller villages (and there are many of them) around the capital are badly connected to the city centre. Often, there is only 1 bus an hour and the last bus runs at 9 pm so if you are going out with friends, you literally cannot get home on public transport.

  26. The key question is not the planning, it's whether infrastructure for public transportation with no profit motive is an wise investment of taxpayer dollars. Don't make it free, rather fund the whole enterprise with fares rather than public funds. We all know what the result will be: the real cost will drive fares so high that the folly of public transport as a business model will be obvious to all. Let the free market solve the transportation problem, not government driven utopian schemes.

  27. "No one ever knows, if the trains are voing to be on time." As a german with personal experience with the "Deutsche Bahn" (DB), I can totally relate to that statement.

  28. Maybe govt could afford to do something similar here in the UK if eBay and Amazon didn't avoid tax by funneling all their UK income through Luxembourg.

  29. One of the things I find exceptional about trains in Japan is that when your train is late, you can pick up a little late slip as you get off the train that to the nearest 10 minutes says how much you were delayed, and workplaces accept them as a proof of the delay not being your fault.

    If you try to arrive at work on time and then the train is 45 minutes late, then oh well, you just start work 45 minutes later that day. It's fantastic. If a train is late or unreliable, then it doesn't worry you nearly as much. This also means that the train network has pressure from businesses and by extension local government to operate well.

    The other thing of course, is that your workplace has to pay you back for your trains to and from work every month.

  30. 4:04 disagree i think free transit is brilliant for tourists when they can just hop on hop off without having to worry about the complexity of getting tickets. it makes a city more appealing to visit.

  31. My town has free public transport on saturdays, and people use it! But also because there is a lot of construction and using cars is very annoying right now

  32. Hey Tom! You should check out the abandoned "Hotel Busca Thedy" in Gressoney La Trinité in Italy. It is the largest building in the small alp town and has been abandoned for years. It is quite creepy. Cheers 🙂

  33. "It has happened that people are standing for an hour and a half on the platform, waiting for the train, with no substitute buses or anything. So, that's an extreme case, obviously"

    Canadian checking in, I was nodding along until "So, that's an extreme case, obviously".

  34. I live in Poland and we have awesome public transport – even in smallest unimportant shitty villages you have bus/tram that will take you very close to where you want to go.
    like you could totally live in in other part of city/other town that you work/learn and not own a car.
    and also its free for elderly, and free to blood donors

  35. Anyone here who disliked want to explain why?
    I think even if you don't like Tom Scott its a good video and even if you don't like the video its Tom Scott.

  36. Thanks to the University of Luxembourg, I got to have a free pass during the time I was a student. Still, the 4 hour commute per day (due to delays) gave me depression. In this country, traveling 30km by public transportation feels like a way longer commute.

  37. "Partly that's because it can afford to do it; the country is a small rich tax haven." says the Brit xD No offense but that made me chuckle 😉

  38. Hi, like someone said. Someone has to pay for it. They raised the petrolprice to be on european level, then they raise it for the co2 amount luxembourg produce so no petroltourisme anymore. The one who has to pay is the person who has no other way to go to work then by car. It's not the rich taxpayer, those don't care. It's the small entreprise workers and delevery service, the ones who must take the car to work. And like Dr. Carr said living in Luxembourg is expensive for the non rich people who live here. So not really a taxparadise for non-big-firm people.
    Beside that it's an good video who show the side the politician see the country compared to a Research scientist. Good job.

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