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A short reflective post today. My husband and I have a conversation about transportation periodically. It goes like this:

  • Me: “Why can’t we make all public transportation free in Tirol, and simply tax vehicle drivers so much (with exceptions for special cases – yes, to be discussed!!) that it only makes sense to catch the train or the bus?”
  • Him: “Who will pay for it?”
  • Me: “Well, initially the car drivers, of course.”
  • Him: “The infrastructure isn’t there. If everyone used public transport, we’d need significantly more buses and trains. Do you even KNOW how much time it takes to order a bus or build a new train or re-vamp the rail network?”
  • Me: “…and? Surely we can make a plan?”
  • Him: “And let’s not forget that there are loads of places in Tirol where public transport doesn’t exist or isn’t viable because the population is so small. Tiny villages up the side of mountains with 20 people: they want the flexibility to get where they need to go when they want to go there. Two buses a day won’t be enough.”
  • Me: “Yes, that’s tricky.”
  • Him: “Having said that, in some of these small communities, the local taxi service functions like public transport – they have a contract to take children to and from school. So perhaps that’s an option: electric taxis as public transport where a bus doesn’t make good business sense or any sense from a CO2 perspective (manufacturing, running, and so on).”
  • Me: “Ah hah!”
  • Him: “And then there is the mindset.”
  • Me: “Well it’s time the mindset jolly-well (I used other words!) changed. We need to make this sort of behavior so normal that people who deviate from feel social pressure. That’s why it’s no longer acceptable for male managers to pat their female employees on the bottom any more. That’s why Austria has banned the use of hen cages. Same principle.”
  • Him: “…”

And then the conversation moves on.

Enter Michelle Wu, mayor of Boston with grand plans about FREE public transportation

I read an article in The Guardian with Michelle Wu about her commitment to providing free public transportation, and the benefits are already proving to be  significant. In fact, she talks about this as an investment where “we very quickly see the returns”, based on the success of an initial project in which three bus lines that serve predominantly low-income areas and people of color are now free.

The initiative has been a game-changer for folks struggling with their basic cost-of-living expenses: she talks about people not having to panic about how to pay bus fare to get to work or school. If it is embraced across the city, however, the reduction in CO2 emissions would be an additional benefit, as would the opportunity to create a “flatter” society in which rich and poor use the same services to get around town.

Just imagine if rich people had to take public transport to get to and from work, or to do their grocery shopping, or to come home after a night on the town: I am guessing that there would be regular buses (and/or trains) that travelled along sensible routes, that had priority in traffic, that ran from early in the morning to late at night. Oh, and perhaps there would be enough transportation, so that being stuck standing on a bus for two hours wouldn’t happen.

“…what we know from city government is that you can do big things by getting small things right.” – Michelle Wu

What if we asked our local representatives to find a way to offer free public transportation for everyone?

What would that mean for our communities?

What would that mean for people affected by all the increasing food and cost-of-living expenses?

What would that mean for our streets? Perhaps more space for children to play in so-called “public spaces” that we seem to dedicate to cars!

What if we asked our communities and cities to find ways to fund local free public transportation initiatives?

Countries find money for wars. Here in Austria, elected officials find ways to pay astronomical amounts of money for bog-standard websites. In my home country of South Africa, politicians find money (not their own) to build sprawling estates that are eye-wateringly expensive and luxurious.

So why can’t they come up with creative ideas to reduce CO2-emitting vehicles off our roads and create a space for us to travel freely and for free around the beautiful and not-so-beautiful areas around us?

I think it’s doable. I think it’s worth writing a letter, or starting a conversation, or getting a group together.

Why not?

This post was originally posted by Suzanne Whitby on 23 June 2022 at suzannewhitby.com.