Free public transport: a new initiative filed in Geneva

While it was threatened by a deficiency of nearly 2,000 signatures a week ago, the Geneva initiative “For free, ecological and quality public transport” finally succeeded with 10,500 signatures. Submitted this Thursday, it aims to drastically reduce individual motorized traffic at the end of the lake, in the wake of the cantonal climate plan and the objective of carbon neutrality set for 2050. In the event of validation by the Council of State, the population could decide a second time on free Geneva Public Transport (TPG) for all within two years. She had refused a similar text in 2008.

“Between the climate crisis and the examples of other cities that have taken this step, our initiative has received a very favorable reception from the population, comments Teo Frei, member of Solidarity Youth. With the inflation that we are currently experiencing, people feel even more concerned about free transport.”

Funding avenues

In the opinion of the four parties behind the text, the Young Greens, the Socialist Youth, the Solidarity Youth and the Young POPs, the ecological transition must be done through a “positive” discourse. “This scorching summer is there to remind us of the urgent need to get out of fossil fuels, to develop and democratize alternatives to motorized individual transport, which represents 29% of CO2 emissions in Switzerland”, note the initiators. The cost of the measure is estimated at 120 to 157 million francs per year, i.e. the loss caused by the disappearance of tickets and subscriptions, which represent a third of the financing of the TPG.

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To make up for this shortfall, it is in the revenue generated by the new minimum corporate tax rate, established at 15% by the OECD, that the young people on the left imagine drawing on. They are also thinking of relying on the profits of the SNB transferred to the canton. Tracks only, since the text only plans to decide on the principle of free access.

According to the right, it is more towards the development of the mobility offer that action must be taken to encourage modal transfer. “This initiative does not take into account certain realities. Everything is not free in life, and always relying on taxes is not viable, ”reacts the PLR ​​Maxime Provini. For the municipal councilor, facilitating carpooling and building park and ride facilities are more effective and less costly measures to reduce motorized traffic.

Mixed European examples

Although the issue is primarily climate-related, economic considerations are increasingly pushing certain European countries to lower the price of certain types of transport, or even to make them free. In Spain, to fight against the decline in purchasing power, some rail lines will be free from September 1 to December 31. In Germany, where inflation is high, the population rushed on the ticket at 9 euros per month to take the metro, buses and regional trains without limit during the summer.

Read also: Switzerland is still struggling to reduce the CO2 emissions of its vehicles

Regarding cities, those that have chosen to make transport free in the long term have experienced a general increase in the use of their networks. This is particularly the case of the Estonian capital, Tallinn, or Aubagne, in France. But this increase is often at the expense of soft mobility. Thus, in Dunkirk, where public transport has been free since 2018, the modal share of bicycle trips has fallen by 12%, a figure much higher than the observed decrease in trips by private car, of only 3%. As for pedestrians, more of them took the bus after the introduction of free admission.

“All the studies say roughly the same thing: the cost-effectiveness of free transport is not favorable in terms of modal shift, explains Sébastien Munafo, director of the Swiss subsidiary of the 6t office, specializing in mobility. Contrary to popular belief, people do not choose their means of transport based on the marginal cost of a ticket or even a subscription. A finding that was illustrated during the last reduction in Geneva fares, in 2014, which had no effect on the sale of TPG tickets.

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The reduction of parking spaces or the development of the transport offer are more effective, according to Sébastien Munafo. Researchers are carefully observing the case of Luxembourg, the only country to have introduced free admission nationwide since 2020. “It is clear that this measure alone does not solve the problem of mobility, reacts Teo Frei. In order not to discourage cyclists and pedestrians, it must be accompanied, in particular by securing cycle paths and by greening the roadway more. In town, walking must retain its appeal.”

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