Free public transport: How Delhi can learn from Luxembourg

The European country, which has made all forms of public transport free, has a solution to India’s traffic jams

By Rajit Sengupta
Published: Wednesday 04 March 2020

Luxembourg, a country twice the size of Delhi, has made all forms of public transport free, starting March 2020.

The second-smallest country in the European Union (EU) has problems quite similar to Delhi, the foremost being expensive housing. Nearly 0.2 million people, or a third of its population, travel to the country every day from neighbouring France, Belgium and Germany for work. At the same time, Luxembourg has the highest car density in EU.

In 2017, it had 670 cars per 1,000 people, as per the statistical wing European Commission, Eurostat. The country’s capital, also called Luxembourg, is the 53rd most congested city in the world, said the 2020 traffic index by navigation company TomTom. People driving in the city lost 163 hours to traffic, up from 149 hours in 2018, the index added.

Surprisingly, François Bausch, deputy prime minister and mobility minister of Luxembourg, said the initiative is “an important social measure”, pointing that improving the environment or traffic congestion are not the main drivers.

“The project is primarily a dual social measure, which on the one hand means more money in the wallet of low earners and on the other hand, the burden is shouldered by those who are better off because it is funded by taxpayers’ money,” said Dany Frank, public relations official, Ministry of Mobility and Public Works.

She added that ticket sales generate 41 million euros (US $44 million) annually, which is 8 per cent of the country’s public transportion costs.

“The loss of revenue has been taken into account in the national budget and will be financed by taxes,” said Frank.

The announcement is backed with steady planning and investment that has improved the overall public transport infrastructure in the country. In 2018, the government brought in free transport for everybody under the age of 20.

Soon after, it launched an elaborate sustainable mobility plan, Modu 2.0, that aims to reduce rush-hour congestion and boost the number of people taking public transport by 20 per cent from 2017 to 2025. And now it has abolished all tickets, except for first-class travel on trains.

Where Delhi falters

The government of Delhi started a similar initiative last October when it announced free bus rides for women. The national capital, which the TomTom survey ranks the eighth-most congested city in the world, has had a mixed experience so far.

While the scheme is boosting women ridership, it is financially draining the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC).

“Women constituted 30 per cent of the total Delhi Transport Corporation or DTC ridership at the start of the scheme (0.5 million women passengers daily). Their share has not increased to 45 per cent (0.8 million),” said Ravinder S Minhas, spokesperson, DTC.

The Delhi government pays the bus operators Rs 10 for every woman rider. The amount is surprisingly the same for both AC and non-AC buses and is independent of the distance travelled. The government has plans of extending the scheme to students and senior citizens in the future. This can backfire as the loss-making state transport corporation has a shortage of buses.

DTC in February for the first time had its biggest bus fleet at 6,233. In 2001, the Supreme Court had assessed that the city needed 10,000 buses.

According to the Delhi Master Plan 2021, the fleet size should be 15,000. The other problem is that 15 per cent of all bus trips in a day are cancelled due to poor maintenance, showed Central government’s Review of the Performance of State Road Transport Undertakings for April, 2015-March, 2016.

Meanwhile, Delhi Metro remains expensive for most.

“Our studies have shown that given the income profile at least 34 per cent of Delhiites cannot afford the minimum bus fare in relation to how much of their income they can spend on transport. Therefore, public transport will have to be modernised and yet kept affordable for all,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the air pollution and clean transportation programme at Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

In Delhi, it is cheaper to travel by two-wheelers than Metro rail if the distance is up to 32 km. Even cars are more economical than Metro if the distance is up to 7 km.

“Delhi has ambitious targets under the 2021 Master Plan. What it needs is a steady investment to overhaul the public transport system,” added Roychowdhury. And in this respect, Delhi, can learn a thing or two from Luxembourg.

This was first published in Down To Earth's print edition (dated 1-15 March, 2020) 


Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.