Recently the article on fare-free public transport policy (FFPT) I’ve been writing with Dr Monika Maciejewska and Dr Wojciech Kębłowski has finally been published in the Journal of Transport Geography. This post is a short wrap-up of what is inside.
Why FFPT in Poland?
As it turned out during my PhD research, Poland is a relevant nationwide analysis setting. First, it boasts the most significant number of FFPT localities in Europe. Currently, 93 municipalities are serviced by 64 FFPT networks, reaching a total population of 2,095,467, accounting for 5.5% of Poland’s total population. This makes Poland one of the global leaders in FFPT, along with USA, Brazil and France.
Second, despite its increasing popularity, the boom for FFPT in Poland remains unexplored mainly by academia and transport experts and off the radar of national transport authorities. Up to date, there are just a few reports or case studies, alongside a flurry of brief media articles (the newest here).
Third, the post-Socialist context engenders strong contradictions in Poland’s transport geography. On the one hand, local public transport is framed as a social service, subsidised by relevant public authorities. On the other hand, the transition from State-led socialism to free-market capitalism has entailed a profound redefinition of the State’s involvement in service provision, drastically reducing coverage and quality, particularly in rural localities (and the other two reasons described in the article).
If you want to dive deeper into transport exclusion in rural localities, check out the interview with my colleague Dr Łukasz Fiedeń, who focuses on the topic in his doctoral thesis!
FFPT programs are distributed throughout the country in 14 out of 16 Polish regions. Geographical clusters emerged in the western region of Wielkopolskie, the southwestern region of Dolnośląskie, and around Warsaw, the capital city, where 10 FFPT networks operate.
Four geographical types of FFPT municipalities could be identified: suburban networks, parallel networks, networks operating in homonymous municipalities, and singular urban networks.
Jump into the study to know more details on identified FFPT types.
Proximity to existing fare-free networks seems to influence adoption, suggesting policy diffusion and mobility.
Does size matter?
Contrary to earlier assumptions, our findings complicate the notion that fare-free programs tend to exist in small and simple networks and are more likely in well-off localities. Although most FFPT municipalities have fewer than 25 000 inhabitants, cities with 50 001 – 100 000 residents lead in fare abolition. Regional capitals and large cities have yet to opt for FFPT.
FFPT implementation is more likely in municipalities with stable or increasing populations, indicating the importance of stable tax revenues. Unemployment rates are negatively associated with FFPT, with lower rates among FFPT localities, suggesting improved job access or the attractiveness of the municipality to businesses. Further research is needed to determine causation.
The probability of engaging in fare-free programs is lower in municipalities with decreasing populations and higher in those with stable or increasing people.
Financial resources or political colour?
Financial resources are required to provide total subsidies for public transport. Still, our study found that municipal expenses per capita are correlated with the emergence of FFPT, while higher revenues are not a prerequisite. This suggests that a commitment to public spending on services is a crucial driver rather than a cost-benefit analysis.
Lastly, we found that FFPT is more likely in left-leaning municipalities and even more popular in municipalities with a high share of votes for liberal-right parties than in those supporting far-right parties engaged in redistributive social spending policies.
One noteworthy observation is that while most FFPT networks (50) operate within a single municipality, some localities combine resources to create larger inter-municipal networks (14) spanning multiple territories. The complexity varies across regions.
Also, most networks were open to everyone without tickets or control systems (52), with some limited to residents.
Regarding public transport operations, the only common characteristic is that it relies on bus transport only. The remaining features (e.g., frequency, spatial coverage, integration with other public transport operators) differ significantly. While in some networks, the bus ride every 20 minutes, in some localities, the bus respect shifts in local business, industry and schools.
Where to go next?
While this study has advanced our understanding of FFPT in Poland, further work is needed.
This study opens up many opportunities for further research in Poland and other countries with numerous FFPT cases, such as Brazil, France, and the United States. Analyses in other countries with many FFPT cases have the potential to clarify some contradictive findings (e.g., suitability of the FFPT for various settlements).
In Poland, where FFPT popularity is increasing, more in-depth studies are required to explore FFPT from political, economic, or psychological viewpoints. For example, understanding the diverse rationales behind the 93 cases and determining whether FFPT functions as an individual program or part of broader local development strategies are essential next steps. The results of this study offer a vast pool of FFPT cases that would allow such an exploration.
Stay tuned for more updates!