Austria has just launched a ‘Klimaticket’ (Climate Ticket) for public transport, which gives you unlimited use of all trains, trams and buses across the whole country for £930/year. Up to four children under sixteen can be included for an additional £95/year, and children under five travel free. Lower priced regional tickets are also available.
By comparison, a Multibus ticket just for Cambridgeshire is nearly double the cost of a Klimaticket, and does not include trains, guided busway or some other bus services. The Austrian government subsidy for the Klimaticket is expected to be £14.50 per year per head of population. That compares with £15.50 for the free bus pass scheme in England.
There are good reasons for not doing exactly the same as Austria. If the marginal (per-trip) cost is free, train and bus operators have no way to incentivise people to travel at quieter times. Too many people travelling at peak times causes overcrowding. That puts people off using public transport and creates pressure for operators to buy and run more buses and trains, which sit around empty much of the rest of the day. Varying ticket prices through the day helps spread demand and reduces the average price.
Annual passes are also unaffordable or a risky commitment for many people. If you can give up a car, it may be a cost-effective trade-in. But for most people, the public transport is not (yet) there to replace enough car trips.
Before looking at ways to lock people into using public transport, we need to make it super simple to use, widely available and cheap. So, let’s start with integrated rail–bus tickets with free transfers: nobody should have to pay extra for the inconvenience of interchanging. And let’s make it so you can easily plan trips and pay for trains, buses, hire bikes and e-scooters all in the same app.
These are foundations for an expansion of bus services. They need to be top priorities in the new Local Transport and Connectivity Plan being consulted on now. Do give feedback – if only to ask the mayor to be bold in his plans to drive down carbon emissions, air pollution, and road deaths and injuries.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 3 November 2021.