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In the town of Dunkirk, the free bus makes its way

Ⓒ AFP – FRANCOIS LO PRESTI – | Publicity of the free bus to Dunkerque, in the north of France, July 23, 2017

In the most “bagnolard” city of France, a “revolution” was needed: the urban community of Dunkerque, with a population of 200,000, will offer the largest free transport network in France in 2018, a daring measure already in force on weekdays -end.

“We are the most shabby city in terms of public transport, under 5% of bus trips and cycling at 1%. We needed a click!” Says Patrice Vergriete, mayor (various left) And president of the “agglo”.

Thus, in this harbor town shaved 90% during the second world war and rebuilt leaving the large share to the wide streets, the inhabitants no longer need the weekend to disburse 1.40 euro for a ticket.

In the bus shelter at the foot of the statue of the corsair Jean-Bart, Nadia, 42, goes with her children to the beach of Malo. “Before, I did not take the bus, now I take it on the weekend, so I do not pay parking anymore,” she said enthusiastically.

Ⓒ AFP – FRANCOIS LO PRESTI – | The urban community of Dunkerque, with a population of 200,000, will offer the largest free transport network in France in 2018, a daring measure already in force on weekends

The driver, Frédéric Chopin, feels a different atmosphere, thanks to a significant decrease in incivility. “It’s cooler, maybe because people do not have to pay. Not having cash at the checkout also allows us to be more focused on driving,” he notes, Increase in attendance, calculated according to a partial study at + 29% on Saturday and + 78% on Sunday.

Some, like Magalie, who lives in a popular neighborhood, have already made their (good) accounts. “My transport budget amounts to about fifty euros a month, with the free, it will make 600 euros of economy per year”.

But how to finance this measure of total gratuity all week, from September 2018? “The cost of public transport in Dunkerque is between 45 and 50 million euros, ticketing only brings in 4.5 million euros,” explains Mr Vergriete, a former urban planner. “Somewhere, this political choice was feasible,” he said, while the rest of the funding is provided by tax, transportation payment and part of the general budget of the urban community.

Some 65 million were also needed for upgrades to the network from the 1970s and should absorb a doubling in attendance by 2020.

Still, some grind teeth. For Philippe Eymery, FN municipal councilor, it is “a pseudo gratuity” that will be “paid by the taxpayer and especially by the companies, with the increase of the rate of the transport payment”.

– revitalizing the city center –

Free public transport is in full swing, with some 100 networks completely free in the world, including thirty in France, with Niort joining the list on September 1, stresses Maxime Huré, researcher in political science and specialist questions Of mobility.

Ⓒ AFP – FRANCOIS LO PRESTI – | A free bus during the weekend in Dunkerque, in the North of France, July 23, 2017

“The first experiments took place in the 1970s, notably in France in Compiègne or in Italy in Bologna. After having fallen into disuse, the idea of ​​gratuitousness reappeared in the early 2000s,” he explains. University of Perpignan.

Some municipalities saw it as a means of revitalizing declining city centers, responding to ecological aspirations, or tackling the social isolation of the most impoverished populations.

“Public transport is not profitable and never will be: free access is only a political choice to allocate public resources,” the researcher argued, stressing that some public services were free like education.

But at this time of declining community endowments, the issue is dividing. Bruno Gazeau, president of the National Federation of Transport Users’ Associations (FNAUT), said: “We are not in favor of total gratuity, but a free consideration of income,” he said, fearing In addition to a deterioration in the quality of supply.

“The communities that set up the free system say” we’re going to modernize the network. “That’s true, except that after five years, when the equipment has to be renewed, they say” we’ve already given a lot, Can not give more + “, argues he.

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