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Environment

Luxembourg to Be First Country to Offer Free Mass Transit

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Free mass transportation helps to reduce car use, which in turn reduces air pollution. The United Nations’ Global Goals calls on countries to improve air quality both to lift health outcomes and mitigate climate change. You can join us in taking action on these issues here.

Traveling across Luxembourg is about to get a lot easier for people without cars after Prime Minister Xavier Bettel signalled on Dec. 5 that his ruling coalition will soon make free public transportation the law of the land, according to the New York Times.

Although the measure will be great for the environment and helps people tight on money, the primary reason for the action is the country’s vexing levels of traffic, the Times reports.

Luxembourg has the highest car per capita rate in all of Europe and its rate of international commuters doubled over the past decade. The country’s population swells by a third during the week because of workers from abroad, the Guardian notes. As a result, rush hour roads teem with cars, becoming a constant headache for urban dwellers and people who live in border villages, and costing drivers upwards of 33 hours of their lives per year.

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The country has been moving in this direction in recent years by allowing people under the age of 20 to ride mass transit free of charge. Fares will no longer be collected on trains, buses, and trams for all people by the summer of 2019, and the measure will be fully phased in by 2020 when the specifics are thought through, the Guardian reports.

For example, the country hasn’t figured out what to do with first- and second-class compartments.

Currently, the country recovers only around 3.3% of the amount it budgets to mass transit through ticket sales, the Times notes. Consequently, the removal of fares will likely be easy to absorb. Other changes may be harder to cope with, according to one study that examined universal travel programs, including a potential rise in vandalism and slower service.

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Luxembourg isn’t the only country to experiment with free mass transit. Estonia has offered free mass transit in its capital Tallinn since 2014 and plans to expand the model countrywide in the years ahead.

Cities in Europe like Paris, Barcelona, and Berlin have eased mass transit fares to fight air pollution, which causes 400,000 premature deaths and leads to $24.7 billion in health care costs each year across Europe.

Adopting free public transit also mitigates climate change by prioritizing sustainability in the transportation sector, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, even exceeding the coal-dependent electricity sector.

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Germany, for example, is planning to offer free public transit to meet European Union air quality regulations.

“We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” German ministers wrote in a letter to the European Commission in February. “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany.”

Although Luxembourg is framing free mass transit as a way to fight traffic, air pollution is likely a major factor as well. The country has some of the worst air quality in Europe.

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Regardless of the motivation, the move has been celebrated on social media.