By Manus Lenihan
We need to transform our cities and communities through free public transport. As well as abolishing fares, we need for a vast improvement in quality: an integrated public transport system based on trains, trams, buses and bicycles. No-one in a city or town should live or work more than a five-minute walk from public transport links, with frequent services. School buses should cover all public schools and be completely free of charge.
Impact on workers & young people
This has been done. Ask the residents of Dunkirk, France; Tallinn, Estonia or one of over 120 other cities around the world that run public transport without fares. In Dunkirk, a quarter of the city centre used to be car parks. Now, buses pass every ten minutes. Bus usage has risen from 50% to 85%. Motorists have switched over in big numbers. For the unemployed, young people, working-class people and the elderly, their city has been opened up. As researcher Wojciech Keblowski has pointed out, free public transport has proved to be “a social policy that redistributes access to the city”.
Free public transport must become a key demand of the protests against government inaction on climate change. What other policy would do so much to reduce emissions, while also doing so much to improve people’s lives in the short term? Far fewer cars on Irish roads would mean vast public spaces opened up; an end to people wasting hours of their lives in daily traffic; deaths and injuries and damage avoided.
Massive investment needed
Delivering free quality public transport would obviously demand a lot of investment. Anyway, right now we pay painful amounts of money for our cars – it’s relentless: insurance, tax, fuel, maintenance. As a society, we pay billions for motor infrastructure. If it’s a question of money, then basing all of society around the car is the most expensive option imaginable. Investment can be paid for by taxing the profits of big business and more generally utilising the resources of society through a socialist plan of society based on public ownership of the key sectors of the economy.
But in broader terms, our environment pays the heaviest price of all. We have known about global warming for decades – but our money is still being pumped into massive infrastructure projects and communities designed around a totally false assumption: the idea that everyone is going to keep driving cars for another 50 years.
Capitalist establishment failure
But far from valuing and promoting public transport, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and the “Independents” in government have kept degrading the service, leading to a whole series of public transport strikes – Bus Éireann, Luas, Dublin Bus. On the other hand, those who want to defend public transport and those who want to save the environment should see their common interest: the bus drivers on the picket lines and the students walking out of school are on the same side.
The growing demand for socialist politics, which delivers for people and environment, has led to Trump accusing socialists of wanting to confiscate people’s cars! This is the opposite of the truth: right now people are forced to buy cars. In Dublin, “You cannot move around unless you have a car, so you have to buy a car” according to James Wickham a Trinity based academic. What socialists want is to liberate people from gridlock and crippling expenses by opening up public transport, making it top-quality and free of charge.