about the project

This website originates from LiFT: an ongoing research project titled “From Low Fares to No Fares: An Analysis of Economic, Operational, Socio-Spatial and Political Dynamics of Fare-Free Public Transport.”

This website aims at providing comprehensive and up-to-date information about fare-free public transport (FFPT). Also known as “free public transport”, “zero-fare public transport”, and “free transit”, FFPT provides passengers with access to public transport without having to pay any fares.

Although FFPT has become an established practice, discussed and implemented by policy-makers across Europe, it remains largely controversial and under-researched. The main objective of the project is therefore to understand diverse aspects of FFPT related to its transport (economic, operational) and urban (social, spatial and political) dimension. The project builds on three research strategies outlined below, each involving both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Empirically, the ambition of the project is to provide the comprehensive global overview of FFPT to date, while offering an in-depth analysis of on four selected cases of fare abolition programmes.

Conceptually, the project advances critical perspectives on transport by developing the link between transport studies and urban studies. It analyses FFPT as a policy that affects not only the economy and operation of local transport networks, but also functions as an inherently urban phenomenon, interacting and conflicting with different publics, spaces, scales and political institutions.

The project explores what difference it makes to abolish fares in public transport, notably using the following research questions:

  • What is the geography of FFPT?
  • What is the economy of fare abolition? How does FFPT operate?
  • Who benefits from FFPT and how? How does FFPT affect travel behaviour? Does it increase public transport accessibility, especially to diverse under-privileged groups? How does it affect transport workers?
  • What is the governance of FFPT? How and why is it conceived, decided about and applied? How does it relate to local power relations?
  • Does FFPT make public transport a more public service and space? How is control exercised in a FFPT system?

To engage with these questions, the research team are following three research strategies

  • First, to unpack economic and operational dimensions of FFPT, a worldwide survey of all its detected cases will be conducted, providing the most comprehensive analysis of the policy to date.
  • Second, the team will engage in qualitative fieldwork to explore the particular cases of existing and discontinued fare-free programmes in the Great Duchy of Luxembourg, Lubin (Poland), Castilla y Leon (Spain) and Santiago (Cuba). Multisource user surveys and in-depth interviews will be conducted to investigate how fare abolition affects travel behaviour, lifestyle and well-being across diverse socio-economic groups. Local stakeholder, political bodies, electoral programmes and media will be analysed to unpack the spatial and political impact of FFPT, across institutions and administrative boundaries.
  • Third, together with expert focus groups, the project team will build on insights from the survey and  fieldwork to project and analyse scenarios for potential fare abolition in the Brussels-Capital Region.

This project is carried out by a research team based at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium) and Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research.

It is funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) and Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR).

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