Beginning September 2018, public bus transportation in Dunkirk, France will be 100% free of charge. Dunkirk is the largest of 30 French transport authorities to instate free transit policies. The move supports France’s Paris Agreement goals and sets a promising example for other cities worldwide.
Dunkirk mayor Patrice Vergriete says the promise of free transportation helped him win the election in 2014. In 2015, the city introduced free weekend service. Ridership soared and passengers diversified. “I wanted to give back purchasing power to the families,” said Vergriete in an interview with CityLab Paris.
Many people asked how the bus drivers will make their salaries, but Vergriete explained the salaries only accounted for 10% of the city’s €50 million annual transit budget. What’s more, €250 million in tax money, previously allocated to expanding a sport stadium, is now being used to fuel the free transit initiative. “The stadium was not useful for everyday life,” said Vergriete. “It’s better to have free public transportation.”
Dunkirk residents say free transportation has improved quality of life, by saving gas or fare money and the headache of parking. Vergriete is now working on making the transport more effective, by expanding routes and frequency. He also plans to create more biking and walking pathways. Vergriete says other mayors often ask him how he was able to pull it off, but he says it’s simply a question of political priority, stating “It’s really a choice that we are making to charge.”
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