Luxembourg becomes first country in the world to introduce free public transport

With a population of only 614,000, Luxembourg one of Europe’s smallest countries will provide free bus, tram and train rides.

One aim is to ease traffic congestion but critics see it as a PR stunt.

Travelling on transport will be free for residents and visitors alike, except for first-class train passengers.

The price of the project will be the €41m (£35m; $44m) in lost ticket fares, but that will be shouldered by the taxpayer. “Of course, just because I call it free transport doesn’t mean nobody pays,” said Mr Bausch, who is part of Luxembourg’s green party, déi Gréng.

The total cost of running the service is more than €500m so the government sees the lost fare revenue as relatively small. Transport staff will not lose their jobs, they will merely spend less time checking tickets.

It was not exactly pricey before 29 February. A fare cost €2, and double for a day pass. Many workers have their annual travel pass subsidised in Luxembourg, so few people spend much on transport anyway.

“The government wants Luxembourg to become a laboratory for mobility,” says Mobility Minister François Bausch, who points to the grand duchy’s fast-rising population, with a rise of 40% in 20 years.

Some 200,000 workers – almost half of Luxembourg’s workforce – commute from Belgium, France and Germany, attracted by high salaries and a wealthy economy.

The big day is being heralded on Saturday with concerts at four train stations and numerous other events.

Luxembourg has a terrible traffic problem. Major roads are snarled up in the rush-hour, buses are old-fashioned and the rail system is notorious for its delays.

Diesel and petrol costs are cheap in Luxembourg, compared with its neighbours, so not only do many commuters from neighbouring countries drive to work but “fuel tourists” cross the border to fill their tanks.

Markus Hesse, professor of urban studies at the University of Luxembourg, says they have organised is the wrong solution to a complex problem.

The free public transport will not really deal with the car problem, according to Prof Hesse, because Luxembourg has “high salaries and low petrol prices so people buy cars”.

Many of those commuting from neighbouring countries live in areas without decent public transport so he believes they will continue to drive. Luxembourgers who currently cycle may now get off their bikes to enjoy the free travel too.

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