In 2018, public transport will be free in Dunkirk
In 2015, Dunkirk launched an experimentation with free buses on weekends. On September 1, 2018, this gratuity will become permanent, for all users and on all days of the week.
At the origin of this decision, the Mayor of Dunkirk, Patrice Vergriete, who conceived the measure as a “psychological and social shock”, in a conurbation where buses only account for 4.7% of trips. Following the implementation of this measure on weekends, a study, carried out for seven months by an independent firm (VIGS), highlighted the increased attendance levels of buses. A 78% increase was recorded on weekends; that is 5000 additional passengers per day on average.
A measure with multiple challenges
This measure is first of all a fight against precariousness. Not only does it permit most disadvantaged people to be able to move across the city, but it also indirectly helps them to find a job.
The other important aspect of this measure is to increase social mixity in the buses. The middle or wealthy classes, who usually spontaneously take their cars, are increasingly choosing the bus instead. This increase in bus riders has the advantage of naturally regulating incivilities in buses. A report by the firm VIGS has noted a decrease in acts of incivility of 59% since September 2015, even though attendance has skyrocketed.
A measure criticized
A recurring criticism is the risk of the network deteriorating due to lack of sufficient funding. However, the elected official at the origin of this decision takes full responsibility for his choice. According to him, the budget has been adapted in consequence. Receipts of bus tickets in Dunkirk only finance 10% of the cost of public transport, compared to 28% on average in France. The conurbation authority thus will have only around 4.5 million euros to compensate for a 45 million total budget. Overall, this is a relatively small sum.
Realistic or idealist?
Elsewhere in the world, the largest experimentation of free transport takes place in Estonia. The city’s 440,000 inhabitants can ride buses, trams, trolleys, and trains without paying. An alternative to gratuity also exists, it is the so-called “solidarity” pricing. Toulouse, Clermont-Ferrand, Nantes, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Brest, Blois, Chambéry and Amiens already have opted for this solution. It should be noted, however, that free access has the advantage of increasing social mix in public transport, something that is not done with the solidarity pricing measure.
Master 2 GEDD à la faculté de droit de Strasbourg