If the bus was free, would you take it more often? That’s the question at the heart of the discussion around fare-free public transport.
Příbram (Central Bohemia) is considering making public transport free, to solve the problem with parking in the center.
“We are now very strongly considering this option. We want to have a debate on this topic not only in the council, but also with transport experts, citizens, and representatives of the non-profit sector,” says Deputy Mayor Martin Buršík.
“We have been working for a long time to improve parking in the city. In recent years, several hundred new parking spaces have been created in Příbram, and other car parks are planned. In the city center, however, there are not many opportunities to expand parking,” added Buršík.
“We have modern buses, one of the densest public transport networks compared to similar cities in the Czech Republic, and fares that are definitely at an acceptable price. Nevertheless, the center is still full of cars.”
Opponents of free fare transport policy frequently point to its high financial costs which, in their view, outweighs its impact.
According to preliminary calculations, free public transport shouldn’t affect significantly the city’s budget. “It will cost us less than CZK 1 million a month. The total cost of public transport in Příbram is about CZK 45 million per year.”
From a purely economic point of view, there is another fact: Prague and the Central Bohemia region are coming closer to having a single mass transit system.
The merger of bus transport, which makes it easier to travel on a single ticket, should continue in the direction of Zásmuky and Uhlířské Janovice, including a connection with Sázava. The connection between Prague and Beroun, Hořovice, Zdice, and via Hořovice to Příbram should also be resolved.
Prague and the Central Bohemia region both hope to reduce commuter traffic by making public transportation including regional trains easier to use.
Tallin, the first one
In 2018, the city of Dunkirk, France, made buses free and accessible to all passengers, even visitors. With a population of roughly 200,000, Dunkirk is the largest city in Europe to offer free public transit.
Dunkirk’s system was inspired by Tallinn, Estonia, the first European capital to provide fare-free service on buses, trams, and trolleys to registered residents. Locals pay €2 for a “green card” that gives them unlimited free trips. The program started in 2013 and, as of 2016, Tallinn claimed it was turning a €20 million-a-year profit.
In March 2020, Luxembourg just became the first country in the world to make its entire public transit system free to all.
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It is no longer necessary to prove a physical card to a conductor or inspector; a mobile application suffices.
The newest PID Lítačka application has arrived for regular passengers and public transport in Prague, as well as suburban lines in the Central Bohemia Region.
This is another step in the modernization and digitization of urban travel, in where the new transport system started in Prague and the Central Bohemia Region last year. This significantly facilitated the purchase of tickets and coupons as well as their recording on physical carriers. Until now, only physical plastic cards have been used as identifiers with which you could prove yourself during the transport control.
Since the launch of the new transport system, the PID Lítačka application has also worked, but it was only possible to buy short-term fares. However, this is now changing, and it is finally possible to upload long-term coupons (i.e. quarterly, half-yearly or yearly) to a mobile application that works on both Android and iOS. As of December first, the application can serve as an identifier.
Lítačka has been ready for long-term coupons and their uploads for a while, but more than 3,000 check-in devices had to be ready for vehicles to work with in-app vouchers and reviewers. With the vehicles now prepared, they can safely recognize a long-term coupon on both a plastic card and a mobile phone.
Either a card or app
A long-term coupon can still be uploaded to a single identifier, but you can only have it on either a physical card (Lítačka, In ČD Card, Visa, Mastercard) or in the PID Lítačka mobile app. Therefore, it is not possible to prove your card just once, by your mobile phone— you have to choose, or manually change your coupon when you change the carrier.
As the representatives of Prague Integrated Transport have revealed on our inquiry on Twitter, the impossibility of multiple identifiers is mainly due to the possible misuse, which significantly increases the existence of one coupon on two identifiers. Two people could theoretically travel on one document, one showing the card and the other on their mobile application.
The developers do not exclude that the system will be technologically modified in the future for the possibility to use more identifiers, because—even according to them—although it would be a “more friendly and modern” solution, it is not yet possible. However, the Czech Railways In Karta card, for example, works both on the physical card and mobile application.
To verify the long-term coupon, the QR code will be displayed in the PID Lítačka application, which will be scanned by the attendant or reviewer. Contactless NFC chip will also work on selected Android mobile phones. It will be possible to identify in both metro and trams as well as buses or trains, as was the case with single tickets so far.
Passengers still have to go to the PID Lítačka e-shop when they want to buy a long-term coupon. Momentarily, the ICT operator is working to move this feature into the mobile app. We should expect further updates next year.