9:30 a.m., October 2, 2022
In Montpellier (Hérault), Valentin swapped his car for a non-paying tram train at the weekend – “ No more queuing to get a ticket! » ; in Rouen (Seine-Maritime), owners of polluting vehicles can, from tomorrow, scrap them in exchange for a free transport pass, valid for two years; further south, in Libourne (Gironde), the end of tickets in 2010 made it possible to fill the buses, which ran empty on the network, while in Gap (Hautes-Alpes), the same measure had the effect of stopping the exponential curve of the number of cars. ” It wasn’t won explains its mayor UDI Roger Didier. We are in a very rural area, with an obligation, or almost, for some to use their vehicles. »
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In France, 38 towns have exceeded their free admission network, i.e. 1.5 million potential passengers, with agglomerations of more than 100,000 inhabitants: Dunkirk, Niort, Aubagne and Calais; and as many town halls on the right as on the left, according to data from the Observatory of Free Transport Cities. To these are added other places, such as Rouen, Nantes or Strasbourg, which have set up partial arrangements: no ticket for young or old, only weekends, Saturdays only, or in the event of a pollution peak. In still others, it is the poorest who are exempt from the ticket.
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Economic interest, but also ecological?
With what results? Everywhere, these measures, often accompanied by an increase in the transport offer – + 45% in Dunkirk, + 15% in Calais – have led to an increase in passenger numbers, the first rose from 9.5 to 19 million trips per year; up to 27,000 trips in a single day for the second on September 12, a record. In Montpellier, free admission at weekends has boosted attendance in the city center by 15%. ” It had a very positive effect on trade “, also testifies the PS mayor of Rouen Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol.
“ To assess the effectiveness of the device, one should not look at attendance alone, tempers Philippe Poinsot, researcher at the Ville Mobilité Transport Laboratory. Where do the passengers come from? Do they make the same routes as before or do they make new ones? So many questions likely to be answered free of charge by researchers from the Observatory of Transport Cities, also wondering about the effect on portfolios and CO2 emissions. ” Often, the first objective is to make transport accessible to all, for the sake of equity “, analyzes Philippe Poinsot. Moreover, several cities took the plunge during the Yellow Vests crisis. ” It was a boost for the less well off, explains the LR mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart. And this is even more true today, with the rise in the price of gasoline. »
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Pro- and anti-free are opposed above all on the ecological interest of the measure: does the end of the tickets bring drivers to let go of their car for a place on the bus? ” Detractors tend to say that free transport is just a vacuum cleaner for cyclists or walkers “, reports the researcher. On the subject, studies are lacking, except in Dunkirk where the one carried out in 2019 showed that 48% of new passengers had abandoned their car.
The same survey comes to debunk another received idea: incivility does not increase with gratuity; the better they fall. In Montpellier, the transition to total free will be accompanied by the next deployment of a transport police. With its 419,000 inhabitants, the metropolis will be a test. ” It’s a change of scale because if it’s possible in Montpellier, it’s possible everywhere, except in Paris and Lyon “, believes Philippe Poinsot.
For the socialist mayor Michaël Delafosse, free access is accompanied by heavy investment in the network, extended time slots and a reinforced cycling plan. But the measure is expensive: around 5% of the city’s operating expenses; especially since the greening of the fleet must be carried out at the same time. In Rouen, the mayor has made his calculations: in the event of total free access, 25 to 30 million euros would have to be found each year to compensate for the drop in revenue. ” We are engaged in a race against time and if we want to decarbonize, we have to make disruptive decisions, defends the mayor of Montpellier. The advantage of free is that it involves everyone. »