The Impact of "Free" Public Transport: The Case of Brussels

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

planning - surveys, ridership - mode choice, policy - fares, economics - pricing, mode - bus, mode - mass transit


Universities and colleges, Travel surveys, Travel behavior, Transit, Refunds, Public transit, Public service, Public opinion, Pricing, Mode choice, Modal choice, Mobility, Mental maps, Mass transit, Local transit, Intracity bus transportation, Interviewing, Free fares, College students, Choice of transportation, Case studies, Bus transit, Bruxelles (Belgium), Brussels (Belgium), Access


Public transport subsidies play an important role in the present Belgian mobility policy. The introduction of “free” bus transport in Hasselt in 1997 was an important event. Later, the Flemish government in cooperation with the regional public transport company elaborated the so-called “third-payer system” for target groups. The price of public transport is not paid by the user or the provider, but partly or completely by a “third party”. In how far these measures contribute to a more sustainable mobility system has caused much debate. In the academic year 2003–2004, a “free public transport” initiative was introduced for the students of Flemish colleges and universities in Brussels. These students had the opportunity to obtain a refunded annual season ticket on Brussels public transport. Brussels was selected for the case study, because in the same city there is a group of students that benefits from the measure, and another group (students from French speaking universities and colleges) that does not. In order to examine the effects of this measure, we conducted a survey among the students to examine their present travel behaviour (number of trips, motives, modal choice …) and the changes with the travel behaviour of the previous year. In addition we compare the current travel behaviour between the students benefiting from the measure, and those who do not.


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