"If I used public transport every day, I’d save around 2,000 euros annually," he says. "But it takes me 1.5 to two hours to cover the distance, with a bus or train departing once every hour. And if I miss the late bus at 19:35, I have no alternative but to take a taxi home. Luxembourg’s transport network really needs improving."
Cross-border commuters who use the train will benefit, however. Bausch says train and bus fares will be adjusted down “after discussion with neighbouring transport networks”. And for those who like to travel in style, the option of buying a ticket to go first class will remain for an annual fee of 660 euros, or 75 euros per month, Bausch says.
The move to free transport has attracted a great deal of international attention. “If the country had launched a promotional campaign, it would have cost millions," comments economist Michel-Edouard Ruben. "With this announcement, Luxembourg just achieved a worldwide ad campaign for free."
But he feels the style outweighs the substance. "Free transport is a false, fashionable idea," he argues. He feels the money would be better spent on rent subsidies or social housing.
Constance Carr, a senior postdoctoral researcher at the University of Luxembourg, voices similar views, saying: “Free public transport is a complex issue and fees are not the problem.” She highlights high-priced housing as the key social issue, saying rising costs are driving people out of the city to border areas. Making more land available for housing would be one potential solution, she says, but whether land owners would support that “is a big question”.
National transport unions are opposing the plan. “Making transport free might lead to an increase in vandalism,” said Mylène Bianchy, president of railway union Syprolux. “People appreciate it less and vandalism increases.” Unions also fear the scheme will lead to staff dismissals. But Bausch says nobody will be laid off. “Ticket inspectors and desk staff will remain on board and in the stations, and will be redirected to information and security tasks.”
Will it work?
Luxembourg is not the first nation to try this: the Estonian capital Tallinn introduced free public transport in January 2013, with twin purposes of tackling congestion and helping low earners. Residents pay 2 euros for a green card that allows them to travel throughout the city, while non-residents and tourists still have to pay. The French city of Dunkirk also introduced free buses in September 2018 for its 200,000 residents.