Left Municipalities Experiences of Public Transport – ELSU Session

Magall Giovannangeli

We carried out an analysis of free public transport. Free as in liberty and free as in no fee. There are lots of lessons to be learned here. Sometimes we have to step into reality and deal with real technical questions of how we improve peoples lives. Things like public transport give us an opportunity to do this.

Sarkozy was elected, people got less and worked more. We tried to find pro-worker/citizen approaches which were eco-socialist and yet could exist in this hostile climate.

We had people at all levels of the process from activists to municipal officials. The institutions in general claimed that without cost there was no value. The public largely just wondered if it was possible. We spend 1 year in juridical legal and financial difficulties trying to make it a reality.

In the end it is free but it has a cost, it comes from the public money for people. The ability to pay for this has to do with legislation in France which allows us to charge companies of more than 9 workers a fee per worker to pay for transport infrastructure. We argued that free transport best satisfied these requirements.

We want to extend this judgement to railways – no tickets or individual taxes.

The immediate effect of our experiment has been a decrease in pollution. Anecdotally people are happier to be outside, happier to take the bus. The general reaction of the public went from cynicism to optimism.

The introduction has increased the frequency of buses due to reduced transaction costs in taking tickets and queues.

We have introduced more routes, with greater frequency which has increased rider-ship. Now it is easy to demonstrate the improvement and nobody denies that it is possible.

If this advance is attacked, the population is likely to fight to keep it. We transformed the social relationships in the public sphere.

It has also significantly improved the worker experience for bus drivers who no longer have to be in an oppositional position with the public when the public uses transport.

Costs per rider have been assessed at 50% of what they were prior to the change. This is due to increased rider-ship and reduced transaction costs.

We don’t take the costs for granted. We have real material constraints real problems in deciding how to choose among various routes for convenience within those constraints. We are currently looking at pushing out our network of free transport to a greater area.

Our Mayor has attempted to attack the use of the transport provision in court. He has lost the first time and is repeating on different grounds. It’s an attempt to recentre power.

This is a small step, but it opens new possibilities and hopefully it could be replicated.

Heitor Sousa

In Portugal we are far from the scenario of free transport. We have very expensive infrequent bussing which is declining in quality.

We want a public transport that is cheap, frequent and of a good quality. The right wants to implement the opposition.

Why? This is not merely ideological. The decrease in quality of public services provides both rationale for privitisation (public services are always poor) and opportunities to do so, as the removal of public services allows private services to compete.

it’s not just a transfer of property. The, impoverished rely disproportionately on public transport and will not use it if it is too expensive increasing their impoverishment. Advocating public transport means anti-privitisation.

From the left, why cheap public transport? Health/Education/Transport should be treated as a right. People have been expelled from the cities. There are a lot of negative externalities associated with this expulsion from the city centre.

Cheaper transport means greater use, this is more egalitarian, but also it increases free space in both reduced parking, reduced traffic, reduced fuel, reduced accidents, reduced pollution, reduced dependency on oil. It is a tremendous improvement in general use-value.

How do we get the money? We are intending to implement it by reallocation of fiscal revenue. We have revenue from parking and petrol tax which goes to the city but which is then channelled to the central state. We propose to use some of this locally for transport.

Though total petrol use will decrease because of increased rider-ship, we expect fuel cost increase to compensate.


PCF comrade from the floor: I work in the railway and we have a different problem. People are working in outlying areas and commuting via train. You need complementarity. However, we can’t get the big improvements that you get with buses by going to a free model. The lead time on trains makes it difficult to increase frequencies. Density increases requires infrastructure.

We need a broader attempt at coordinating transport strategies. Can the EU be a help or a hindrance in doing this? We definitely need a reorganisation of the public system, but how can we do this?

Magall Giovannangeli: We should choose quality first. Free gives all the advantages of removing transaction costs which cheap does not. There may be a big problem in trying to take half measures.

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