Vapaa Helsinki

In the last few years vocal critizism has been expressed and resistance organized against the fares and fines of the Helsinki public transport system. In 2003-2004 the campaign was organized in similar fashion as the Swedish People could become members of the network by paying a small monthly fee and in return get the bulk of their possible fines paid. The network involved at its best 50 people. It collapsed after the people maitaining it got too busy to keep it running.

The next big effort to challenge the public transport policies of the city were organized in 2008 when the network Vapaa Helsinki – Free Helsinki – was initiated. Initially the network started a sticker campaign which encouraged people to warn each other of “smurfs”. This was followed up by actions where people dressed up as actual smurfs and went into the public transport system warnng people of ticket inspectors, handing them tickets and sharing flyers on free public transport. Parallell to this a big demonstration of about 1000 people, connecting different urban issues and demands was arranged at the end of april. The specific demands of the demo was free public transport, legalization of graffiti and street art in public spaces and that the police of Helsinki stop id-cehecking people “looking like immigrants” in public spaces in search of illegal immigrants.

The campaign proceeded this autumn with a demo that moved in the subway of Helsinki, mobilizing 50-100 people. After that it has been on hold but will most likely be reinvigorated within a few months.

The central demands of all the political actions concerning public transport in Helsinki during the last years has been that it should be free and without control of guards, cameras or inspectors. The last demand is one of the main reasons why no lowering of fares except removing the fares completely is enough. As long as there is a fare their is also reason to maintain control and make public transport a place for monotonous movement in a capitalistic society: from home to work, from work to the shop, from the shop to home and so on. Instead of this Vapaa Helsinki has pushed for public transport as a public space for actually meeting people and living life beyond commodity.

Another approach of the Vapaa Helsinki network has been to view the struggle for free public transport parallell to and as an alternative to workplace struggles. With increased precarity among people today organizing workplace struggles is increasingly difficult. An alternative to direct fights where you stand is to struggle for all the costs society puts on your necessary activities, for instance movement in the city. Time spent travelling to work, studiec etc. is time away from peoples leisure activities and should be paid for instead of people having to pay for public transport.

These demands are not likely to gain any political breakthroughs in Helsinki soon. A recent poll showed only 7 per cent of the people in the city support free public transport and no political parlty fully supports the idea. As almost a thid of the people in Helsinki drive private cars more frequently than they use public tranport, the development of public tranport is viewed as an issue of getting less people to drive. No visionary radicalism is present in the debate and a lot of challenges remain on turning the popular agenda. Non the less many established parties support lowering the fees and this is quite likely to happen in the near future.

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