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It would cost an extra €600 million a year to make public transport free in Ireland

While outlining the figures involved, Shane Ross effectively ruled out such a possibility.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

IF IRELAND WAS to follow the example of Luxembourg and make public transport free, it would cost the State at least an extra €600 million a year, Minister Shane Ross has said.

The government also has “no immediate plans” to begin looking into making this a reality either, Ross added.

The Transport Minister was responding to a question put to him via parliamentary question from Solidarity-PBP’s Richard Boyd Barrett.

In December, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said free public transport on trains, trams and buses would be introduced from early 2020.

The tiny country of 600,000 inhabitants had more than 100 million passenger journeys on public transport in 2016. In Ireland, there were well over 100 million journeys on Dublin Bus alone.

A number of European cities provide some degree of free public transport, and Ross told Barrett that the objectives of such initiatives can be to “reduce traffic congestion, to attract people into cities for leisure purposes, and to provide environmental benefits”. 

As highlighted earlier this week, Dublin fares poorly in terms of traffic congestion when it comes to our European counterparts, and was rated among the worst in a new global report.

Ireland’s environmental woes have been well documented, with the country well on course to miss vital emissions targets and face hefty fines. 

Taxpayers already provide funding to the tune of €300 million as subvention for public service obligation (PSO) transport services and rural transport link services.

National Transport Authority (NTA) figures for 2017 show that passengers paid about €580 million in fares on subsidised bus and rail services. 

Ross said: “Therefore, if such services were to be provided free to passengers, then the expected cost to the Exchequer would be in excess of the €580m collected in fares in 2017.”

This would be an additional cost to the €300 million for PSO services and the €95 million which covers the free travel scheme operated by the Department of Social Protection. 

“So taking round approximate figures, the Deputy’s idea would cost the taxpayer about €600 million per year, in addition to the €400 million that the Exchequer already spends on public transport services,” the Minister added.

And this is just the cost of the actual services; it does not count the Exchequer investment in public transport infrastructure which in 2019 is about €350 million and will be rising sharply over the coming years.

This also does not count the likely additional cost associated for additional fleet, depots and drivers to meet the likely demand if fares were eliminated. 

Ross said he had no immediate plans to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of introducing free public transport, but added he was interested in hearing about “innovative and radical ideas” that would meet the needs of passengers, encourage more people out of their cars, while alleviating congestion and helping to tackle climate challenges. 

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Sean Murray

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