24.10.2016 : Vaibhav Gandhi

A pinch of socialism

How can we save the time and money we waste in traffic?

Once upon a time there was a city in Estonia called Tallinn, which was struggling with a disease called traffic. To overcome this disease, the government decided to make public transport free for its 400,000 residents; now Tallinn is the European Union's first capital to have free public transport. Within four months of the initiative the city’s traffic had fallen 15 percent, and public transport use had increased 14 percent. However, it seems other OEDC countries are not yet convinced, making little effort to tackle their own traffic issues.

On average, London drivers waste 101 hours in traffic and Los Angeles drivers waste 84 hours. In 2014, an ABC news report said America had blown $160 billion in wasted time and fuel - an average cost of $960 per motorist. While the NZ Herald reported that Auckland commuters spent an average of 95 hours stuck in traffic - up from 89 the year before.

How can we save the time and money we waste in traffic?

I would use public transport in a heart-beat. But when a return bus fare from home to work costs me almost twice as much as the fuel to drive, there isn’t much incentive.

And I’m guessing I’m not the only one who, in such scenarios, isn’t motivated to use public transport.

So how do you encourage people to use public transport? Estonia offered free travel in an effort to reduce congestion, and other EU countries have attempted to partially implement a similar free system.

The solution lies in simplicity. Allow the community as a whole to own and regulate public transport services. Make public transport free.

There are a number of benefits gained by free public transport, not just freeing up our motorways so we spend less time in traffic, and saving us money. For instance:

  • Public transport agencies will gain more bargaining power for securing major contracts with original equipment manufacturers, fuel marketers and maintenance contractors. They will also save on technology-related costs as most of their high-tech GPS devices, connected card readers or the software they use for collecting fares and maintaining the records, wouldn’t be required for free transport.
  • We’d be protecting our environment and building a more sustainable future. A Global Burden of Disease study (2010) estimated the cost of the health impact of air pollution in OECD countries was about USD 1.7 trillion. Fewer vehicles on the road would mean less air pollution, which eventually translates into savings in healthcare costs.
  • The number of vehicles on roads would reduce substantially, providing massive savings in the cost of importing fuel, and this extra money could be pumped back into the economy.
  • In countries where affordable housing is an issue, free transport would enable people to move further away from work, which could help curb house prices and control population density.
  • It would compete with Uber and other taxi companies, to provide more competitively priced transport options.
  • There will be fewer accidents…the list keeps growing!

There are a few arguments against free transport - the loss of revenue in the transport sector, loss of taxes from the automobile sector, fairness for the non-users etc. These arguments are valid but easily manageable. A few cents more tax on petrol won’t hurt the end user either. We win more than we lose. Tangible and intangible benefits from free public transport would overcome most of these arguments. If not, then add a pinch of socialism and think again.

About the Author

Vaibhav Gandhi

Valuer

Vaibhav is a plant and machinery valuer from Mumbai in India who recently moved to New Zealand. He is passionate about everything on wheels, including office wheelchairs.

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Vaibhav Gandhi · 5/12/2016 5:09:24 a.m.
There are massive Pros and Cons. Quantifying it will be a big challenge. The problem is western governments willingness to take on the oil lobby and automotive industry. It is a high-risk proposition and rewards are mostly intangible.

Vaibhav Gandhi · 5/12/2016 5:08:51 a.m.
There are massive Pros and Cons. Quantifying it will be a big challenge. The problem is western governments willingness to take on the oil lobby and automotive industry. It is a high-risk proposition and rewards are mostly intangible.

Sean Milnes · 15/11/2016 6:46:00 p.m.
When I lived in Perth, the busses were free within the CBD. It meant they were used all the time for getting from office to office, or from the train station to office. Part of the reasoning I heard was interesting. A bus sitting in a lane blocking traffic while someone pays a bus fare has a significant overall impact on productivity - the other passengers are held up, the cars or buses behind are held up and so on. This impact was more costly than free bus trips.
Secondly, a possible mitigation to this is tag on systems for travel which don't require paying in the bus. But the need to have a card means people who don't ordinarily use the bus won't consider it for short across town trips.
So, free CBD buses. Great idea.