Making buses affordable

The low waged, unemployed, disabled and OAPs use buses more than anyone else. A well-functioning bus system, therefore, is an important way to reduce social and economic exclusion. However, the cost of bus use has increased rapidly in recent years. In England, average bus fares rose by more than 60% between 2009 and 2019; much faster than rail fares (50%), motoring (35%) and wages (23%).


Dunkirk, like Portsmouth, is a region that is well known for its role in WW2. After the war, it was rebuilt as an industrial hub, but more recently has suffered an economic decline and rising unemployment.

In an attempt to reverse this decline, and boost the purchasing power of residents the local authority made buses free at the weekends and on public holidays. In 2018 they made buses free for everyone, every day of the week.

The move to free public transport was combined with a major upgrade of the bus system. This involved increasing the total number of lines from 10 to 17, boosting frequency to one bus every ten minutes, introducing priority bus lanes and making travel frictionless: i.e. people don’t have to worry about travel cards, cash or identification.

To facilitate this, the bus company acquired 45 new Wi-Fi-connected buses powered by natural gas.

In terms of impacts, a study in 2019 found that bus use has increased by 65% during the week and by 125% during the weekend.

50% of those surveyed (1000 people) said they take the bus more than before. 24% (480 people) said they now regularly use the bus instead of their cars. About 5% (100 people) said that they sold their car or decided against buying a second one because of the free buses.

While the removal of fares was given as the key reason for increased public transport use, almost 40% of respondents also cited the increased efficiency and reliability of the network.

At least 98 cities and towns around the world now have some form of free public transport.

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