Transported : Draft of an argument for Free-at-access Public Transport

Wright Street Car
Wright’s Streetcar Rapid Transit Vehicle. Source:
Oil, and therefore petrol, will run dry in the next 15-20 years. Earlier estimates put it at 30 years or more, but didn’t take account of the rise of China and India as first world economies – which in today’s terms, means enormous consumers of oil.

I believe that when the concept of holistic accounting is considered, the cost of free transport would be considerably cheaper than any conventional figure. Holistic accounting takes in the social, health and environmental enhancements and savings involved in any costing. The health consequences of doing nothing will in themselves put a dent in any conventional budget:
“The report just released on Greenhouse Gas Abatement Strategy shows that there will be a 180 per cent rise in emissions from cars and trucks over the next 10 years if nothing is done. It shows this will cause huge damage to people’s health. Already EU limits for emissions from cars and trucks are massively exceeded in the Dublin region.” (Vincent Browne, The Irish Times, September 20th, 2000).

NB This is a very rough draft. I originally posted this on the alternative party forum, now defunct, and haven’t had time to update it. Hopefully seeing it on a public space again will prompt me to work on it.

As for the financial benefits, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce estimates that the traffic chaos is costing Ireland €3 billion a year.

The €3 billion cost of transport congestion was mentioned. Like the traders in Moore Street who say something costs “from”€1.50 per half dozen, we use the term “up to”. There are no hard and fast figures. The €3 billion mentioned is largely drawn from the EU White Paper on transport which was published about a year ago. It estimated various costs, which are well detailed in the paper, relating to congestion. These costs include everything from opportunity costs to down time to delays in paying people and the cost of things taking additional time and double the number of fleets normally required. It even includes environmental costs and costs for infrastructure replacement. There are other figures. For example, a presentation to this committee was organised by Dublin Bus based on the EU tapestry project, which estimated that the congestion cost due to people using cars instead of public transport in a city the size of Dublin was up to €8 billion. The figures are not precise but they are large – certainly greater than what is being spent. The provision for transport generally in 2004 is €1.6 billion. Therefore, even if we accept the figure of €3 billion, we are only replacing the money lost at half the rate we should.
Mr. Declan Martin, Dublin Chamber of Commerce, to the Joint Committee on Transport Debate, 2003

But what about private sector transport services? Public funding doesn’t imply taking away people’s livelihoods. They should be funded in the same way, subject to a high standard of service being implemented. According to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Coughlan, [edit: she no longer holds this ministry] along with Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, up to 80 private companies already participate in the Free Travel Scheme, so there is a precedent for subsidising private transport companies.

The principle is already there, in other words.

The question that is never asked about subsidising private transport will of course be immediately asked when in comes to the public sphere – where will the money come from?
“Last year (2004) 528 people died on the roads of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; several thousand more were seriously injured. The death toll on Ireland’s roads over the last 30 years is about 20,000, although advances in vehicle and road engineering and changes in the behaviour of road-users mean that the number of people killed each year is now half what it was 30 years ago. Each of those deaths is a family tragedy and many need not have happened. Bad driving is often a cause of road deaths, but in many instances neither the vehicle nor the road have provided road-users with adequate protection. see European Road Assessment Program

The Alberta Medical Association estimated that in 1999 traffic crash costs in Alberta,
Canada total $3.8 billion (1998 Canadian dollars), based on a value of $2.9 million
per fatality, $100,000 per injury, and $8,000 for each property-damage-only
collision.53 This averages about $515 dollars per capita ($335 U.S.), $740 per motor
vehicle ($471), and 3.7¢ per motor vehicle-kilometre (4.0¢ U.S. per vehicle-mile).
NB this link is to a pdf file.

At 528 fatalities in Ireland, that would appear to be a cost of 1.125billion Euro. That’s not counting the cost of injury.

It will in part be a long term investment in savings in public health costs, fines for not meeting our Kyoto Protocol agreements, lives saved, and world wide publicity for Ireland. These are beyond my capacity to estimate, but might make a nice thesis for an student economist. Directly in the short to medium term it would come from a parity of investment principle, and possibly charges similar to those in Ken Livingstone’s scheme for London. And not least, by the savings to the economy through reduced traffic congestion, as highlighted by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce (see link above).

I believe a small towns in Holland and the US provide free transport, but Ireland would be the first country per se to do so. Let’s be the first to do worthwhile things, especially now that we have a smoking ban success, and stop looking to Britain and the US before we do anything.

The advantages immediately apparent are as follows:

* Immediate and significant transfer of wealth to the poor and less well-off.
* Increased access to social and economic activity for the same groups
* Greater parity of investment in public and private transport (important principle)
* Greater speed of bus journeys
* Tax payers would see value for money. The tax payer pays, the tax payer benefits.
* Greater sense of public ownership
* Zero robberies and reduced assaults on bus drivers and staff. Reduced workload for drivers and
inspectors making confrontation with the public unlikely.
* No more wasting of inspector and court time bringing prosecutions
* Coupled with the proper implementation of QBCs, greatly reduced traffic congestion. This has
obvious large savings for businesses etc
* Reduced inflation.
* Reduced stress for the traveling public, therefore greater productivity and health; more free
time for personal and family interests
* Reduced oil imports and dependency. Reduction in car imports.
* Reduced traffic accidents as outlined above
* Improvement in air quality, and consequent improvement in health
* Significant step towards implementation of Kyoto Principles – a national obligation
* Alleviation of rural and suburban isolation – less depression
* The benefit to students and their families would amount to the equivalent of a significant
increase in student grants
* The present cost of pensioner and social welfare free travel would be absorbed into overall cost,
with greater dignity for pensioners and social welfare recipients
* Cut in administration, accounting, printing and security costs
* Redeployment of inspectors to raise standards
* Liberation of management from profit-driven to service-driven mentality
* Tourist relief and delight – a tourist attraction in itself. World kudos for Ireland.

I also advocate the scrapping of the extension of Luas lines, to be replaced by Streetcars – beautiful a bus-tram hybrid manufactured by Wrights of Ballymena. See my Streetcars of Desire entry.


Here you can find a list of cities that currently provides their public transport for free. Part of Free Public Transports

Dave Olsen’s 5-part argument for free transit

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