‘Free public transport opens the city to all’

Free public transport, writes Simon Pirani, promotes a more socially equitable and environmentally sustainable London, where everyone has access to the city's resources.


“Free public transport opens the city to all”, says Fare Free London, a campaign set up on 10 February at the Waterloo Action Centre. Free public transport:

“is provided as a public service, just like health, education and public parks, and is supported by public investment.

“It is central to a vision of London as a city where people, their health and the lives they live, come first”.

After the meeting, I did a podcast with Future Transport London, a long-standing campaign group. It’s here – please click and listen!

Fare Free London is following an international trend. The photo is from Kansas City in the US, which has had zero bus fares for four years – and where campaigners want to make this highly successful scheme permanent.

Asked on the podcast about the objectives of the proposal for free public transport, I said there are two:

“First, to make the system more socially equitable. London is more socially un-equal than any other part of the UK. A higher proportion of households is in poverty, 25%, than any other region except North East England.

“Second, to take drastic, demonstrative action on greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.”

On greenhouse gases, the mayor’s strategy is focused on electrifying vehicles. This can not produce results fast enough, as has been shown in detail by research published last year by a team based at Imperial College.

A substantial reduction in traffic is needed. That’s also good for tackling air pollution and improving other health outcomes.

In answer to a question about what other policies are needed, I said that experience shows that providing free public transport, on its own, does not necessarily lead to big cuts in road traffic.

It needs to be combined with (i) substantial investment to improve the system, (ii) measures to provide more road space for other users (pedestrians, people on bikes and so on) and not just for cars, and (iii) ending policies that subsidise cars and road-building at the public’s expense. 

SP, 1 March 2024.

□ The Fare Free London campaign is getting up and running. Supporters will be demonstrating on Thursday 7 March, at 9.30am, at City Hall, Kamal Chunchie Way, London E16 1ZE, at the plenary meeting on the London Assembly. There is information about the 10 February meeting on the web site of the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition. If you want to get involved, email stopsilvertown[at]gmail.com.

 About the photo. Members of Sunrise Movement in Kansas City lobbied a meeting of the Board of Commissioners (the local government body in charge of transport) on 20 December. The Board was considering a proposal to end the city’s highly successful zero-fares policy, which has applied to buses for the last four years. The decision was postponed, further discussed in January … and the fight continues. Photo by Tammy Ljungblad, Kansas City Star.  

Source >> People & Nature blog

Simon Pirani is a writer and activist who blogs at peoplenature.org. His most recent book is Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption.

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