Fare-free public transport: lessons from Sweden

This summary will primarily focus on places where there is or have been a general fare-free public transport, and not discussing all the places with partial FFPT for certain groups of residents. The latter is quite common, especially concerning young people. All school children that cannot walk to school are granted free bus passes. A few cities that have a small yearly fee are also mentioned. It should be noted that almost all of these examples are from rural areas where few people are using the public transport, so making it fare-free has been a way of increasing ridership, since the municipalities by law have to provide basic public transport.

A few interesting examples are how car users are given a year of free travels with public transport, if they promise to stop using the car. This has been done in for example Lund and in municipalities outside Gothenburg.

In Gothenburg all retired inhabitants ride for free, except during rush hours, which has resulted in many news articles of how happy and active the retired people have become.

Almost all public transport in Sweden now a days are operated by private companies on public contracts, earlier it was mostly by public companies. In 2012 a new law was passed that made it possible for private corporations to start new lines within an existing public transport network.

For the following cities I’m answering the questions below, I will use the numbers to refrain from repetition.
(1) possible effects and side-effects of free public transport (social, environmental, culture and life style, city planning etc.),
(2) costs, perception-costs, savings and the financing of free public transport (subsidies from overall taxes or a special tax/rate/contribution),
(3) target groups (all public transport users or registered residents),
(4) the problem of avoidably increased demand (pedestrians and cyclist becoming idle)
(5) the (long term) process character of the FPT projects
(6) the property resp. ownership relations concerning the infrastructure, transportation companies, service providers,
(7) agents involved in the decision making, evaluation, control processes on local (and regional) public transport.

5900 inhabitants. Since 1995 there is a fare-free public transport in Ockelbo that was created by opening up the public transports and the specialized transports for school children and elderly for everyone, and at the same time making it fare-free.

(1) The change in ridershop of people not going to school went from 9500 to 45 000 in the first year. Increase in new lines and adjustments of time tables made it possible to commute to work. Some households stopped using the car, and many others needed only one instead of two.
Many people could continue to live in the rural areas, and elderly and young people gained more freedom of movement. A lot of the basic services has been centralised from the villages to the cities, the increase in lines made it possible to make quick visits just as with a car.

(2) Overall taxes pay for the public transports. The driving force of the reform was drastic increases in costs for transports for elderly and disabled people. The increased efficiency of the existing public transports therefore didn’t increase the total costs at all.

(3) All users could ride for free.

(4) No problems with decrease in pedestrians and bicyclists was noted.

(6) Only local buses was fare-free, not the regional buses to other cities that passed through Ockelbo.

(7) Principal agents was an elderly lady complaining about how half-empty buses traveled the same routes but she was only allowed to use a few of them, which got a planner in Ockelbo to propose the idea.
The current lines and the time schedules are a result of many years of discussions with the local communities of different villages, to satisfy their needs and wishes.
An evaluation was made with 800 randomly selected inhabitants and 51% of the riders could have taken the car instead. 75% said that they would use the public transports less or not at all if fees were reintroduced.

Martin Gunnarsson”Avgiftsfri kollektivtrafik i praktiken – En studie av Kuxabussarna i Ockelbo kommun“, Kulturgeografiska institutionen Uppsala, 2012

Fredrik Quistbergh “Gratis kollektivtrafik – visst lönar det sig”,

Hallstahammar & Surahammar

15 300 inhabitants. Just like in Ockelbo, both the regular public transports and the specialized public transports are fare-free, and there is also an on-call flexible line that is fare-free.

(1)The main argument here is the efficiency ganined with coordinating rural public transports, school buses and specialized transports, the costs are high and the usage is low, so by increasing the ridership it results in a positive cost-benefit-analysis. The local lines are scheduled with the regional buses and trains to facilitate travelling without a car.
(2) Overall taxes pay for the public transports.

(3) All users could ride for free.

(4) No problems with decrease in pedestrians and bicyclists was noted since it’s a very rural area.

(6) Only local buses was fare-free, not the regional buses to other cities that passed through Hallstahammar & Surahammar.

(7) –

Hallstahammar municipality: “Bussar och tåg”

Ramböll “Utvärdering av avgiftsfri kollektivtrafik i Avesta” 2013

In the small village of Kölsillre with 100 inhabitants, in Ånge municipality, a fare-free flexible on call busline named “Kölsillre Byabuss” (Kölsillre Village bus) was created when the traditional busline was cancelled, due to costs and low usage.
The bus is self-organised by the inhabitants via the webpage www.byabussen.se. People can schedule when they want to use it, and other people can tag along on the same ride.
The bus is primarily used for transportation from the village down to the city of Ånge, but other trips are possible, it can only be used within the municipality of Ånge.

(1) The people of Kölsillre proclaims that they visit more cultural activities compared to earlier, go the theater and cinema, and eat at restaurants. Elderly people are very frequent users, and have a more social life and are being able to be more active.
“People have come closer to each other, and people that didn’t meet before, started to socialize.”
“After the school was closed we started to feel that we couldn’t stay here, but the village bus gave us easy access to all the things we lacked, so we could stay here.”
“It made it possible to commute to work without a car.”
(qutoes are from the documentary)
(2) The village bus in Kölsillre was part of a project called “Rural Transport Solutions” and funding was provided from the European Unions “European Regional Development Fund”, via the “Northern Periphery Programme 2007-2013”.

(3) Everybody can use it, including visitors. And its users ranges from families with children to elderly people.

(4) Due to long distances, walking and bicycling wasn’t an option before the project started.

(6) The regional transit authority is responsible for the project together with the municipality of Ånge, and the bus is rented from a private company. The bus is driven by the inhabitants of Kölsillre themselves.
(7)The regional transit authority initiated the project by asking the village residents if they were interested in this solution, since it would be cheaper in maintenance compared to a regular busline.
The plan was initially that after the project ended, a fee was to be collected from all travels, but a law concerning professional drivers made that impossible so the bus is still fare-free.
Short documentary: “Byabussen – med svensk text”

SVT news: “Gratis byabuss”

Northern Periphery Programme “Rural Transport Solutions 4.5”

SVT news: “Gratis kollektivtrafik i Kölsillre”

Webpage of Byabussen

23 700 inhabitants. In 1997 a fare-free public transport was initiated and after 4 years it was cancelled.

(1) In the city the traffic almost doubled, and in the rural area of the municipality the increase was 8%. The reintroduction of fares resulted in a decline in traffic with 40%, but it was still 15% more than before the introduction of FFPT. The increase in ridership was largest among people working.
Parts of the public transport in the city was very crowded, and fares were increased to finance new lines, but that still resulted in fewer passengers.

(2) Overall taxes paid for the public transports.

(3) All users could ride for free.

(4) Kristinehamn is often mentioned in media as an example of how walking and bicycling decreased due to FFPT, but no numbers were found for this summary.

(6) Public transports is administered by the regional public transit authority and the municipality of Kristinehamn. Parts of the public transports is on call flexible lines. Only local buses was fare-free, not the regional buses to other cities that passed through Kristinehamn.

(7) In a survey 24% of the inhabitants said that they would have used the car instead of the bus, if it wasn’t fare-free. The increase of risership in the city gave the overall project a positive result in the cost-benefit-analysis, although the small increase in the rural areas was alone a negative result.

Magnus Welroos “OM AVGIFTSFRI KOLLEKTIVTRAFIK”, Left Party – Region of Skåne, 2011

Ramböll “Utvärdering av avgiftsfri kollektivtrafik i Avesta” 2013

21 500 inhabitants. The politicians in Avesta decided that all citizens under the age of 19 should have free access to the public transport, previously it was only granted for young people that lived outside the city of Avesta and relied on buses for going to school.
The traffic planners in Avesta then made a cost-analysis of different scenarios which concluded that it was cheaper to shift to fare-free public transports for everyone rather than just for people under the age of 19. All city lines and rural lines within the municipality are free and there is also an on-call flexible line for areas not covered by regular lines. No regional lines passing through the municipality are free. .

(1) 106 800 rides with car has been made with bus instead which resulted in 40 tons less carbondioxide per year.
Overall there was an 80% increase of ridership the first year, and in the two cities Avesta and Krylbo the increase was 130%. Mainly workers and students have increased their use of public transports, but also asylum seekers for whom the costs of buses was very big have increased their ridership a lot. The day with largest increase was saturdays, where ridership went up 150%.
39% of the the increase in bus rides were made with a car ride before FFPT was introduced. New lines were introduced and more buses during the morning rush hour were added. Bus drivers say that their work is more fun nowadays but it can also be more stressful with more people getting on and off. The local union are working with the issue, and have proposed more personnel on the buses.

(2) Overall taxes pay for the public transports.
Costs before FFPT: 24 million SEK
Costs for FFPT for all students: 34 million SEK (+14 million SEK)
Costs for FFPT for all: 24 million SEK (+0 million SEK)

(3) All users could ride for free.

(4) 22% of the the increase in bus rides was a pedestrian or bicyclists before FFPT was introduced.

(6) Public transport are administered by the regional public transit authority and the municipality of Avesta. Parts of the public transports is on call flexible lines. Only local buses are fare-free, not the regional buses to other cities that passes through Avesta.

(7) The decision of a partial FFPT for all students were made by local politicians, and then local civil servants made the analysis that showed that money could be saved by introducing FFPT for all. An evaluation was made by a consulting firm named Ramböll after one year.

Ramböll “Utvärdering av avgiftsfri kollektivtrafik i Avesta” 2013

Kommunalarbetaren News “Här är det gratis att åka buss”, 2012

SR News “Bussvärdar ska hjälpa förarna i Avesta”

In Hedemora municipality, also in the region of Dalarna, just beside Avesta I was part of a study in a hypothetical introduction of FFPT and a comparison with Avesta.

A survey showed that one third of the people not using the public transport today would start using it if it was fare free. All students said they would use the public transport more, several women imagined a decrease in the need for giving children a ride and almost all men claimed that they had no need for public transport and always had to take the car.

(2) Overall taxes and fees pay for the public transports.
Costs before FFPT: 20 million SEK
Costs for FFPT for all students: 36 million SEK (+16 million SEK)
Costs for FFPT for all: 24 million SEK (+4 million SEK)

(7) The planners of the municipality that was interviewed as a part of the study spoke strongly against FFPT. At the time of the study the FFPT was just about to start in Avesta and the civil servants in Hedemora was sure that their focus on more buses would increase ridership more than in Avesta.

Marcus Finbom, Sara Öhman och Roberth Fri “Bussen, bilen och beteendet – En jämförande studie av kostnader och attityder mellan avgiftsfri kollektivtrafik och privatbilism i Hedemora kommun”, Instiution of human geography, Stockholm University, 2012

10 800 inhabitants. In the same region as Avesta and Hedemora. In the early 1990s the municipality of Säter tried FFPT a few years, but the regional transit authority Dalatrafik forced them to shut down since they couldn’t find a system for collecting statistical data of all rides. Local politicians declared that if Avesta made it work now they are interested to try again, since their experience with FFPT was very good, although no statistical evaluations was made of the results.

Dalarnas Tidning: “Säter har redan provat gratisbussar”, 2012-05-13

4800 inhabitants. In 2001 a fare-free public transport for the rural areas only was launched in Övertorneå. All school children already had free bus rides. During the same period a population decrease continued which should have decreased th enumber of rides with 2% if the share of bus rides would continue to be the same.

(1) Half a year after the start the ridership had increased from 1% of all adults to 5%. The number of rides increased with 90% overall from 30 000 rides to 58 000 rides, one line was a big exception and increased with 313%.
58% of the increase in rides was made with a car before the FFPT project.
The cost-benefit-analysis showed showed a positive result of just above 700 000 SEK.
(2) Overall taxes and fees pay for the public transports.

(3) All could ride for free. Now all residents can buy a yearly travel pass.

(4) No problems with decrease in pedestrians and bicyclists was noted since it’s a very rural area.

(6) All bus lines are administered by the regional transit authority. The local municipality paid for all earlier used seats on the bus lines to make them available fare-free for everyone. Total cost was 300 000 SEK for one year.

(7) A local party called “Övertorneå Alternativet” (Alternative for Övertorneå) motioned for FFPT in 1994 as a way to decrease car use in rural areas. It was turned down, but the idea lingered until it was tested in 2001.
An evaluation and analysis was made by Luleå University of Technology after 6 months on behalf of the municipality, who wanted to know if it was worth the cost to continue.
In 2008 it was changed so a small yearly fee for a travel pass had to be paid for, and since then it has steadily increased in price.

Övertorneå Municipality, Traffic information

SVT news “Project with free buses in Övertorneå continues” 2004

Haparandabladet news “Linda Ylivainio wants to stop free busrides in Övertorneå”, 2009

Staffan Johansson “Nolltaxa för busstrafiken i Övertorneå. Konsekvensanalys.”, 2002

5100 inhabitants. A similar system as in Övertorneå exists in Jokkmokk since 2007, although the price is much lower for the travel pass. The municipality is sparsely populated but as big as the three swedish regions Skåne, Halland and Blekinge put together.

(1) Increase access for all services and decreased car usage was the main goal according to left party pliticians that initiated it.

(2) Overall taxes and fees pay for the public transport. The budget for the project was 0,5 million SEK, but it ended up costing 1,6 million SEK, since it became more popular than expected. Number of trips doubled from 1500 to 3000 per year.

(3) All residents can buy a yearly travel pass.

(6) All bus lines are administered by the regional transit authority. The travel pass can be used on all 10 bus lines that pass through the municipality.

Jokkmokk Municipality, Travel pass information

Göteborg Fria Tidning ”Cheap buses made northerners to leave the car at home”, 2008

23 0000 inhabitants, although many mine workers live there but are registered in other municipalities.

(1) In may 2011 – before fares for residents were abolished – the number of bus rides was 12551. In May 2013 this number was 32118. The yearly trips have more than tripled from 120 000 in 2010 to 387 000 in 2013.
Even middle aged miners, that before had never used the public transport, have started to use the buses.

(2) Overall taxes and fees pay for the public transports. The yearly cost for the fare-free buses is 3,3-3,5 million SEK, but it was calculated to cost 5 million SEK before it started.

(3) All residents can buy a yearly travel pass for a small symbolic fee of 100 SEK.

(7) Members of the left party demanded it, after they won the election together with the social democrats and a local sami party Samilistu.

Kiruna municipality, Traffic information

Göteborgs-Posten, “Zerofare is still a hot topic”, 2014

Left Party “Free buses was a success”