Travel News

Free public transport: a user’s guide

Simon Calder’s Travel

Swifties” attending Taylor Swift’s performances in Sydney this weekend are entitled to free travel to (and from) the gig from anywhere on the New South Wales intercity rail network, as well as on all local public transport.

Zero-cost mobility, whether as appreciated by one-third of a million fans for four nights only or as a broader policy involving the permanent removal of tickets, is a commendable concept.

Four years ago this week, I joined the editors of Europe By Rail, Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, for a convivial dinner in Luxembourg City. We were there to celebrate the first nation in the world to abolish fares for trains, trams, buses and even an impressive funicular.

Luxembourg has the twin advantages of being very small and, like Taylor Swift, very rich. Elsewhere in the world, free public transport is still a rare event. Sydney’s rival, Melbourne, the southernmost big city in the world, also has probably the best tram system – and rides are free anywhere in the central area.

The land of the free, America, is also increasingly the land of the free public transport. New York’s Staten Island ferry constitutes a gratis harbour cruise, though the authorities warn: “Be aware of scammers trying to sell tickets.”

In the Lake Nona area of Orlando, Florida, driverless urban transport has arrived in the form of autonomous electric shuttles that take you on free rides around town and into the future.

Detroit’s sole reinvented streetcar is free “sometimes” – yes, that is actually what the timetable says, even though there is no indication of why or when. I was there on a lucky day. And I never pay to travel from Logan airport to anywhere in the centre of Boston. An excellent free bus, known as the Silver Line, runs from the terminals through a secret road tunnel beneath the harbour to South Station: the bus enters a zone which is effectively inside the paid-fare area, so you can transfer to the Red Line of the subway system without a ticket.

In Europe, I enjoy the free ferries in Amsterdam from the “wrong” side of Centraal Station. They potter across the IJ river to Amsterdam Noord, a former industrial zone of reinvention and dramatic street art. And the resort town of Annecy in the French Alps provides free buses throughout July and August, in a bid to reduce the traffic clogging the narrow roads.


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