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Paris looks to open the road to free transport

Paris has launched a feasibility study into how to make its public transport free and, importantly, how to fund it

The aim is to compile a plan to put to voters in the 2020 municipal elections when soc­ialist mayor Anne Hidalgo will  face Ile-de-France President Valérie Pec­resse (LR), who opposes the move as she fears it will impose costs on taxpayers.

It is not known how wide the free transport will be extended, whether for tourists or not, but Ms Hidalgo said the study would look at other French towns and cities where it works.

Compiègne, in Picardy, was the pioneer having had free public transport since 1975.

Fifteen towns have followed boosting their town centres and reducing car use. These include  Chantilly (1992), Senlis (2000); Châteauroux (2001); Mayenne and Issoudun (2002); Figeac (2003), Pont-Sainte-Maxence (2006); Castres, Noyon and Saint-Brévins-les-Pins (2008); Châteaudun (2009); Crépy-en-Valois and Nyons (2011); Gaillac (2014) and Niort (2017).

Dunkirk launches free public transport in Septem­ber after testing free weekends which saw 27% more passengers on Sat­urday, 73% on Sunday and anti-social conduct down 60% as more families used buses.

As the largest French town to switch – Dunkirk’s Commun­auté Urbaine has 200,000 residents – it will be one of the references for the Paris study.

Mayor Patrice Vergriete says its free weekends cost €4.5million in ‘lost’ fares but sees this as boosting the spending power of families and the less-well-off, helping the elderly and, in one of heaviest car-use towns in France, cutting down pollution.

The finances are not a major factor as, like all public transport, Dunkirk’s is already heavily subsidised with fares covering just 10% of the cost of journeys – compared to 28% in the Ile-de-France commuter belt.

That puts the Paris challenge in a new light as losing 28% of fares means €2.8bn in the €10bn cost of Ile-de-France transport.

Paris deputy mayor Bruno  Julliard said coun­cils nearby would pay part but he highlighted the hidden costs of pollution that killed 6,000 a year.

Ms Hidalgo has said an ‘urban péage’ could encourage drivers to use public transport. Paris has also brought in free Navigo travel passes for less-well-off over-65s and is opening 1,000 park-and-ride spaces costing  €75 a month (instead of €140) for people with a Navigo pass.

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