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Should Public Transport in Wales be Free?

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Should Public Transport in Wales be Free? Empty Should Public Transport in Wales be Free?

Post  MH Sat 17 Jan 2009 - 21:44

Trish Law and Dai Davies of Blaenau Gwent People's voice have recently said that they want all public transport in Wales to be free.

ALL public transport in Wales should be free and publicly-owned to face up to the “staggering challenges” of climate change, according to two Independent politicians.

Dai Davies and Trish Law, the MP and AM for Blaenau Gwent, insist their plan of free transport for all is no pipe dream, but costed and achievable. They set out their strategy in a submission to the South East Wales Transport Alliance, a consortium of 10 councils on the nation’s most densely populated area.

Mr Davies said: “Far from costing the earth it would be saving the earth. It would end the sort of isolation many of our communities and people face and would link everyone into the opportunity for jobs, links to culture, and links to other communities so vital for the well-being of us all.”

The two politicians gave examples, including a free public transport system at Hasselt in Belgium which ended congestion and transformed the local economy, free public transport in France and a completely joined-up and highly efficient system in Switzerland.

Mrs Law said: “A free, efficient, fully linked-up, public transport system would put Wales at the forefront of the sort of revolution in environmental thinking and sustainability that we simply have to grasp. We cannot afford to squander five or 10 years with a halfway house set of proposals which tinker with the challenges we face.”

Wales Online, 9 Jan 2009
They also explain how they intend this to be paid for:

Capital costs could be raised by cancelling, scaling down or postponing at least some of the highly expensive transport projects which the Assembly Government is committing itself to.

Because most of a new public transport system would come under the control of local authorities (and groups of local authorities), any funding for public transport would be designated a supplementary local tax. The Assembly should seek new powers to raise such taxes.

By imposing a supplementary local transport tax of 3p in the pound for those earning over £30,000 a year, hundreds of millions of pounds would be raised. Hundreds of millions more could be raised by increasing the uniform business rate.

Alternatively there could be a “transport payroll tax” on all businesses with more than 10 employees. Such a tax is used widely in France to fund public transport. The Paris Metro, rail and bus system, for example, is largely funded through a payroll tax of 2.2%, which generates well over two billion euros a year. To raise around £800m, Wales would need to set the tax at around 2.5%, applicable to all companies in the private sector with 10 employees or more.

This transport payroll tax could be offset against Corporation Tax, which is paid to the UK Exchequer. In this way we would be effectively transferring up to 30% of the costs to Westminster.

Revenue could also be raised by imposing a special tax on HGV lorries towards the costs of road repairs and maintenance.

Wales Online, 9 Jan 2009
I've written to them asking for a copy of their submission to SEWTA. But from what they've said to the Western Mail, it looks like they have modeled the policy almost exactly on that of the Scottish Socialist Party. So you can read it here:

Should Public Transport in Wales be Free? Giant_ticket240

Still, it would be good to see how they've modified the SSP's proposal to suit Wales, and if and when I get a copy of the Peoples Voice version I'll put it up. The obvious candidate for a "highly expensive transport project" would be the Gwent Levels motorway but, as I read the situation, I think this is highly unlikely to be given the go ahead.

And of course, I'm very happy to read that they want the Assembly to gain tax raising powers. In fact it would be very good if People's Voice went as far as the SSP by coming out in favour of Independence for Wales.


As for free transport itself, I'm not fully convinced. To me the main argument in favour is that public transport (and in particular local transport rather than inter-city transport) is very heavily reliant on public subsidy anyway, so it isn't that much more of a step to make it free.

I'm also impressed by the argument that we waste a huge amount of money on traffic congestion (£20bn a year for the UK as a whole according to the CBI), and that if road traffic accidents in Scotland alone cost £1.4bn, they probably cost Wales £800m. If we made a widespread switch to public transport, we might make enough savings in these two areas alone for free public transport to cost no more than subsidized public transport does now.

Hasselt in Flanders is most often held up as an example of how radically things would shift if public transport were made free. The number of passengers there has gone up tenfold.

In the UK, a group in Manchester has advocated free public transport; however in that case it was put forward largely as an alternative to the proposed congestion charge. Things might change as a result of the charge being rejected in a referendum.

And, to put another perspective on things, Geneva recently voted NOT to introduce free public transport.

Here is a selction of links that provide some background information:

So, what do people think?

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Should Public Transport in Wales be Free? Empty Re: Should Public Transport in Wales be Free?

Post  MH Wed 21 Jan 2009 - 6:55

I'm very grateful to have received a copy of the People's voice submission to SEWTA. The formatting might leave a little to be desired, but obviously the content is more important than its looks. So I've converted it as it stands to a pdf, which you can download here:

Peoples Voice Submission to SEWTA

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