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29.02.2020 Europe

Luxembourg offers free public transport, a world first

LISTEN FEB 29, 2020

After months of hype, Luxembourg has become the first country in the world to offer free public transport, as the small and wealthy EU country tries to help less well-off workers and reduce road traffic.

Some cities elsewhere have already taken similar, partial measures. In August 2019 the French town of Dunkirk began experimenting with free transport. But the Luxembourg transport ministry said this was the first time such a decision covered an entire country.

The "free mobility" drive, dubbed "an important social measure", affects approximately 40 percent of households and is estimated to save each of them around 100 euros per year.

Not all passengers were aware of the change, which was brought forward one day ahead of schedule.

"It's free? I didn't know," said Dominique, a woman in her 50s, as she waited at Luxembourg's main train station.

Some transport workers were concerned about what impact the measure would have on their job security.

One ticket seller told AFP they didn't yet know what would happen to their positions. "All the public transport workers are worried. It's not yet clear," he added.

Traffic woes
The measure is part of a plan intended to reduce congestion.

Private cars are the most used means of transport in the Grand Duchy, accounting for 47 percent of business travel and 71 percent of leisure transport.

More than 200,000 workers - close to half of Luxembourg's workforce - commute from neighbouring France, Germany and Belgium and most of them drive in, making for major traffic jams at peak hours.

The population of the tiny country is just 610,000 and those cross-border workers account for half the total employees.

The capital city of Luxembourg has invested in its public transport network, notably by building a tram network, but commuters complain it is still patchy.

It will be some years before the network links to the northern airport, for instance.

"There's been an enormous delay to the development of public transport," said Blanche Weber, head of the Luxembourg Ecological Movement pressing for better links on environmental grounds.

"Systematic and continuous investment is a sine qua non (essential) condition for promoting the attractiveness of public transport," admitted transport minister François Bausch.

Sales of tickets on the domestic network - which cost two euros per journey -previously covered just eight percent of the 500-million-euro cost of running the transport system. That shortfall will now be met from the treasury.

Ticket machines are to be gradually removed from stations, but offices selling tickets for international train trips and for first-class seating in Luxembourg - which continues to be a paying service - will remain.

(with AFP)

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