Can free public transportation save the world? That’s been a question bandied about in many circles, and was the subject of one of Carectomy’s first posts. The city of Hasselt, Belgium, is well past the debating stage. In fact, this past July the city celebrated its 10th year of free public transportation.
Hasselt is a city of 70,000 residents with an additional 300,000 commuters in the surrounding suburbs. Before 1997 there were only eight city buses with an annual ridership of about 360,000 passengers. The bus lines covered a total of about 500,000 kilometers.
Hasselt’s first transportation improvement project was to transform the ring road around the city into a pedestrian-friendly route lined with trees. Next up was an experiment with free public transportation, begun on July 1st, 1997. Ten years later, the endeavor’s success is startling – average ridership is 12,600 passengers per day; there are 46 city buses covering nine lines; and the buses cover 2,258,638 km per year. On the very first day of the program, ridership increased by 783%, which grew to 900% in the first year and over 1,200% by 2001.
The most trafficked lines have buses every five minutes, with the greatest time between buses on any line running at 30 minutes.
Hasselt’s mobility plan isn’t limited to free buses – there are also free bicycles and scooters available, and the city has made pedestrian and cycling access a priority. The primary agenda was to reduce car traffic and improve citizens’ mobility and accessibility to their city. The end result was not only an improvement in transportation, but an improved quality of life. Along with decreased car traffic comes improved air quality, healthier residents (both because of increased exercise and cleaner air), increased tourism, and less need for auto-infrastructure.
All of these perks must come at a cost though, right? Well, actually The Tyee
reports a dramatic financial savings as well as improved lives for Hasselt’s citizens:
The transit system in Hasselt cost taxpayers approximately $1.9 million in 2006. This amounts to one per cent of their municipal budget and makes up about 26 per cent of the total operating cost of the transit system. The Flemish national government covered the rest (approximately $5.4 million) under a long-term agreement.
The Mobility Plan has saved the City of Hasselt millions of Euros on transportation infrastructure costs and has eliminated the previously perceived need of a third ring road. Overall, taxes have decreased because the city spends less money on transportation with the new Mobility Plan, despite the huge increase in pedestrian, cycling, and transit infrastructure and services.
Hasselt has proven the efficacy of free public transportation and the city-wide benefits of a partial carectomy. Let’s hope that what has begun with one city in Belgium will inspire the world.
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