Imagine getting ready for work, hopping into a cab to take you to the train station, riding to your work neighbourhood and then grabbing a bus ride to your office’s door and paying… nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sounds great, right? Well, maybe and maybe not. There are numerous arguments for and against public transport, and some are pretty complex.
The arguments for
Most people seem to really like the idea of free public transport because, generally, it’s a cool idea. It sounds like a wonderful gesture of goodwill from a government to its citizens.
Another, more compelling reason to instate free transport is that it can do a lot to reduce the cars on the road and, simultaneously, cut down on pollution, commuter times and road rage. Basically, the environment would be happier and citizens would be less stressed. If that free public transport system worked, of course.
Sounds good. And besides, people don’t pay for other basic needs, do they? Like having public parks, working street lights and government hospitals, do we?
The arguments against
… Actually, we do. And that’s not the only problem with free public transport.
The first one you’ve probably guessed – every case study we found of free pubic transport took place in a developed country. Every single one. Countries such as Brazil, South Africa and India simply don’t have the well-established long-standing infrastructure (and taxpayer base) to pull it off.
The argument in developed countries such as the USA is that if public transport suddenly became free then the huge surge in commuters and hometown tourists would break the system with a volume of people that trains, busses and trams couldn’t cope with. Making something free without the proper planning in place would likely make congestion worse rather than better (just check out Bucharest in Romania in our previous blog on traffic). We’re talking three hours late to work here, people. I mean, you could always use GoMetro’s app to tell your boss you’ll be late – but do that every day and what do you think will happen?
… And creating the infrastructure that would allow these to cope is another story again. Currently the fares for a transportation mode pay for that mode’s upkeep, like routine maintenance on trains and the like. In SA, approximately 10 percent of people who should be paying taxes are covering the burden for the 90 that aren’t. And they’re already mad. After the NHI, Gordhan’s sugar tax and all the other hoops to jump through, asking them to pay for transport might just be the last straw.
And then there’s the riots. Considering the taxi riots that started after Uber drivers landed in SA (there are still no Uber drivers in most of KZN due to only this reason) can you imagine what the fallout would be from taxis if the train and busses were free? Pandemonium.
A possible silver lining
All of the above talks to SA as a nation – but what about certain very specific areas of it? After all, the first-ever free public transport system wasn’t in the USA as a nation, it was in Mercer County in the US. In fact, to this day almost every free public transport system, with the exception of Estonia’s capital city Tallinn, is located in a small to medium-sized town with less tourists than its surrounds and a well-developed, insular infrastructure. Great examples include Colomiers in France, Avesta in Sweden and Torshavn in the Faroe Islands (know them? Yeah, us neither.)
So, the infrastructure and taxpaying base in Durban might be out of the question – but what about Umhlanga? A tightknit, insular, well-off community with its own Urban Improvement Precinct to take care of everything from crime to potholes for residents. And the taxi riots may be unimaginable in Pretoria, but what about in the Cape Town city bowl? These kinds of areas having a small, localised free transport offering could be an important showcase for individuals to push their government for real value for their taxes.
What do you think, GoMetropolitans? Good idea, bad idea? Let us know and, as always, have a stunningly mobile week!