What Delhi can learn from others about free public transport

India’s capital could learn from other countries and cities who have already implemented the measure

By Susmit Panzade
Published: Thursday 06 June 2019
A Delhi Transport Corporation bus. Photo: CSE__

When the Delhi government recently proposed free public transport (for women), it did not venture into uncharted territories. different models of free commute are operational in various cities across the world, including some in the relatively well-to-do Europe.

Hasselt in belgium was the first city to introduce free transportation in 1997, but rolled it back in 2013. After initial success — ridership zoomed 1,300 per cent — came a huge financial crunch. Factors responsible for revocation included a change in government and rising operational expenses.

Estonia implemented free travel in Capital Tallinn in 2013, though only for its citizens. Note for Delhi: The number of women commuters using public transport jumped to 71 per cent in 2013 in Talinn from 43 per cent in 2012.

Similarly, ridership soared 50-80 per cent once the French port city of Dunkirk made public transport free. 

Luxembourg is set to incorporate a free transportation model from March 2020. The country, one of the smallest in terms of area, has several visitors daily. It also has the highest population growth rate in Europe — factors that have led to heavy traffic and congested roads. Luxembourg has already made public transport free for those below 20. 

In China's Changning (Hunan province), the local government has allocated 7 million yuan ($1 million) to facilitate free public transport.

Many cities in Brazil, the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, Poland and other countries keep transportation free for some age groups, or on weekends, from select hubs and cities and on special occasions, as and when necessary.

The major difference in Delhi's plan is about focussing on women alone to make public transport safer for them. The existing schemes elsewhere has been mostly about reducing congestion and vehicluar traffic, improving the efficiency of public transport, eventually curbing pollution.

If successful, the Delhi plan will also make the roads more breathable. There are structural and infrastructural challenges, though, including a lack of investment in public transport, inefficiency in planning, handling of funds and a growing population — the Indian Capital hosts 20 million people, 8-9 million of whom are women.

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