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In Europe there are discussions about free public transportation to reduce pollution in cities. Even when in Germany first attempts failed due to economical and political arguments, the discussion about it is not yet finished.

Initially I was looking for cities that have introduced "free public transport" to estimate in a second step what impact it might have had on sustainability of the respective ambient (e.g. consumption of area for streets and parking, climate in cities, pollution on fruits from urban gardening, life style in general, mobility, animals in cities, total energy consumption, ability to electrify transport systems, etc.).

In the meantime I discovered lists of cities where "free public transport" was introduced, not knowing whether these lists are complete. Free public transport cities 1 and Free public transportation cities 2. The further link points to some Pros and Cons. But they do not cover all aspects of sustainability, focussing rather more on general political, economical or social aspects Free public transport.

Hope this question now fits to this community.

  • Is there any reason for having the word 'free' in your question? I can't see how free public transport would be any more sustainable (or unsustainable) than non-free public transport. A bus is still a bus regardless of how the owner pays for its operation — the pollution it generates does not change. Are you of the opinion that free public transport is somehow more sustainable? If so, have you checked that such an opinion is actually based on facts and evidence? – Tim Apr 14 '18 at 8:00
  • It is right that nothing is for "free" at all. However it makes a difference when people have to pay for something separately. The case of Tallinn [link]theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/11/… shows, that "free" access to public traffic changes behaviour of people using less cars and occupying less space in city centres. – Salt Apr 14 '18 at 10:10
  • "If you can take public transport for free you may substitute the short trip you used to walk for public transport. Most of the increase in public transport ridership stems from either people who walked previously, or previous transport users who travel more frequently or perform longer trips. Only a small part of those additional trips come from people who also used the car. So we cannot say that there was a net gain in terms of reducing car traffic, or the congestion and emissions associated with it." — dw.com/en/can-free-public-transport-really-reduce-pollution/… – Tim Apr 14 '18 at 17:41
  • "As a study from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden found, Tallinn’s fare-free transit, which applies to buses, trams and trolleys, didn’t bring new riders in droves as city officials expected. The researchers, who presented at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C. this January, found that dropping fares only accounted for a 1.2% increase in demand for the service." — fastcodesign.com/3025761/… – Tim Apr 14 '18 at 17:43
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    Have found a list of cities with "free public transportation": [link]en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_free_public_transport_routes. The large number of locations where public traffic is free gives rise to the supposition that not only bad or poor results were achieved. Who intends to know more about Pros and Cons may look here: [Link]en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_public_transport. – Salt Apr 15 '18 at 11:16
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This 2009 article explains that making the bus (but not the subways) in New York free would save businesses that rely on currently-congested roads so much money that the city would be ahead based on the increased taxes charged to those companies.

This update about the same spreadsheet in 2017 is more focused on charging a congestion charge, but may contain useful information.

In Toronto, the train line from downtown to the airport, called the UP Express, started at a fare of 27.50 and had very low ridership, dropped to $12.50 and saw a huge increase, and now plans to drop to $3. These articles and others you could find by searching on some words from them include armwaving about how this will increase ridership.

You then need to get from A to B in terms of the environmental benefits you hope to see - parking, pollution, etc - since not every extra rider means less cars on the road - but it's a starting point.

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