Operation for Luxembourg’s free mass transit system begins while Singapore’s transport fares rise

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Photo: You Tube screengrab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6RJnQrMKJc

Luxembourg will have its long overdue cultural shift as its government embarks on making all public transport — trains, trams and buses — free of charge.

“Luxembourg is a very attractive place for jobs,” states Geoffrey Caruso, a professor at the University of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research specializing in land use and transportation. But its “booming economy and high concentration of jobs have led to congestion issues,” he explained.

According to Dany Frank, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Mobility and Public Works, the government hopes this undertaking will lessen serious traffic clogging simultaneously bringing in environmental benefits.

In Luxembourg, driving is a “primary means of transportation” and in 2016 alone, the country had 662 cars per 1,000 people, a 2017 report by the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Infrastructure revealed.

In that year, drivers in Luxembourg City spent an average of 33 hours in traffic jams. It is worse than European cities such as Copenhagen and Helsinki, which have comparable population sizes to Luxembourg — yet drivers in those countries only spent an average of 24 hours in traffic.

Free rides
Operating Luxembourg’s public transport system which covers the whole country, costs $562 million. Every year, it produces approximately $46 million in ticket sales.

The government is putting up the cost of making it free, Frank says. “The country at this very moment is in really good shape. We, the government, want the people to benefit from the good economy.”

On the other hand, Caruso is worried that providing free transport for all may inadvertently discourage its citizens who would normally walk or ride on a bicycle in urban areas. “Rather than walking 500 meters, you see a bus coming and you say, ‘I (can) get on and travel 500 meters because it’s free,'” he says. He adds, however, that this recent format of the transportation sector can trigger significant changes ahead.

Can Singapore do the same? Unlikely, for now

As assessed by consulting firm McKinsey, Singapore has one of the best and most affordable public transport systems in the world. One of its most outstanding features which contributed to the convenience and flexibility of the Singaporean ticketing system is the use of the EZ-Link card.

In the latter part of 2018, Singaporean commuters were assured that transport service standards will be raised as government continues to invest in buses and trains. Expectedly, fares will creep up as well.
In one of the Budget briefings, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a statement, “The investments we are making to improve the transport system are huge.”

“Over the next five years, we will provide subsidies of about $5 billion for public bus services and S$4 billion to renew our rail operating assets,” Mr Khaw said. “Another S$20 billion will be invested in infrastructure to further expand the public transport network.”

Accordingly, due to the investments made, service standards have improved. However, these improvements to public transport services have increased operating costs by about 60%. The enormous cost increase has been borne by the Government but commuters also share in the cost rise.

“While transport fares must be affordable, we must be careful that they are not priced too cheaply, as maintaining a high quality transport system requires resources,” he noted. “Cheap fares are popular, but they are not sustainable.”

Mr Khaw said the Public Transport Council is currently reviewing the fare formula as the “current formula is inadequate”….It can be  improved to better track total costs,” he said. “I am confident that they can work out a fair and sustainable arrangement.”

Thus, while Singaporean commuters cannot, at the moment, have a free public transport system, SG riders are currently enjoying good-quality transport experiences.