A small city in France had a problem: their transit system was failing and it was expensive to run. Their solution was to make ridership free for all, and it has turned out to be a success that other cities are looking into.
The motivations for making a transit system free are obvious. Increased ridership can relieve traffic, improve the environment, boost the systemâ€™s efficiency, give residents more spending money, help the poor, and rejuvenate central business districts. Unfortunately, the ChÃ¢teauroux report contains little large-scale analysis of the effects of the system.
But as it turns out, the change nearly paid for itself. Forty-seven percent of bus-goers were already riding for free, and tickets covered only 14 percent of the cityâ€™s transit expenses. By slightly increasing the transit tax on big local businesses while eliminating the costs of printing, ticket-punching technology and the human infrastructure of ticket sales, the city turned a profit on the transit system in â€™03, â€™04, â€™05, and â€™07. Since â€™08, returns have not been as positive, though the report attributes that to a shift in control from the city to the region.