Kansas City, Missouri, is the first major US city to offer free public transit for residents by 2020, Mayor Quinton Lucas confirmed, highlighting he is trying to "build up a culture of bus riding" among locals.
In early December, Kansas City Council approved a plan to finance the idea. Estimations show it would cost nearly USD 8 t USD 9 million, equal to the amount collected from bus fares every year. The lawmakers still need to find out how to finance the idea and where the money will come from in the budget.
Kansas City is home to 490,000 people, 92% of which use a personal/company car to get to work. The city's transit authority's statistics have shown that only 43,600 passengers per day use public transport. Therefore, some critics questioned whether the stimulus would work, saying that free buses would not drastically change the actual commuting behavior.
However, the idea has gathered massive support across climate change activists and environmentalists who blame cars for the majority of harmful carbon dioxide emissions. For them, public transit is the key to reduce our carbon footprint and car congestion.
Some smaller towns have already been experimenting with free buses, but it has not been implemented on a larger scale. For instance, Salt Lake City and Denver have already expressed support for a zero-fee public transport system, but they passed no measures comparable to those in Kansas City.
The debate for free public transportation is ongoing in the United States for decades. In the 1970s, several US cities among which Denver and Austin started offering zero-fee public buses in an attempt to decrease traffic congestion.
As a result, the ridership increased, but it did not change car riding habits. In addition to that, the measure did not affect the mobility for residents unable to use transport themselves or pay for public buses.
A 2012 report by the National Academy of Sciences also proved that nowadays, more than three dozen communities across the nation offer some kind of free public transit. Most successful free options are limited to buses typically found in touristic and resort areas, college towns, or communities with lower ridership levels.
In Europe, similar measures achieved mixed results. For example, in Dunkirk, France, bus ridership went up by 85 percent immediately after the fare-free rate was introduced. However, in Tallinn, Estonia, it's only increased by three percent over the five years since its inception.
What do you think? Would a free public transport system change your car riding habits?