How can some cities around the world offer free or low-cost transit? Roadshow

Q: Gary, I love your column even when I disagree with you. But please be accurate when referencing economic facts that people may use to make decisions. There is no free transit or even free passes. All transit is paid for by taxpayers or from fees.

Those may be given by transit agencies at no cost to the recipient, but they are NOT free. Moving someone from a car to a bus may allow us to shift spending from adding lanes, but that bus is still paid for by someone. Maybe you are suggesting that adding passengers requires no additional funding since the buses run already, but even that will require administrative overhead for the passes, wear and tear on the seats, etc. which will be covered by those who pay to use transit or are taxed to fund transit they don’t use. There is no free lunch.

Dan Winter, San Jose

A: You are correct, there is no free lunch. Some cities around the world are finding that it is beneficial to their communities to provide free or reduced fares to some residents. Read on.

Q: Paris is ahead of the idea on free transit. Students travel free now. The mayor of Paris has proposed free transit to reduce pollution.

Ken Colson, San Jose

A: Let’s move on to Berlin.

Q: The last time I was in Berlin, I found out that an annual pass for all public transit amounted to about $1 per day. How can they do that and we can’t? Wouldn’t such a very reasonable cost help low-income people, as well as generally induce increased ridership in the Bay Area? Also, in Hungary, seniors ride free. These seem like simple solutions.

Andy Csaplar, San Jose 

A: These solutions, or variations of them, could address several significant problems that many cities face.

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