French city Montpellier embraces free public transport, but will it cut traffic?

Public transport has been free for residents of Montpellier since December 2023, when the southern French city waived fares in a bid to reduce reliance on cars. Four months into the experiment, how much have travel habits changed?

“I’ve been taking the tram more since it’s been free,” Cécile, who lives on the outskirts of Montpellier, tells RFI.

“It’s really nice to be able to take the tram and not have all the stress of a car.”

The city’s four tramways and roughly 40 bus lines have been free to the 500,000 people who live in Montpellier and its suburbs since last December.

First trialled on weekends, free rides were made permanent for under-18s and over-65s from September 2021 before being rolled out to all residents.

That decision made Montpellier the biggest metropolitan area in France to date – and one of the biggest in Europe – to experiment with free public transport.

Nearly 140,000 vehicles pass through Montpellier each day, the city estimates, generating traffic, noise and air pollution.

Making trams and buses free will “encourage car users to make the shift to public transport, either partly or entirely”, the council predicts.

Julie Frêche, the councillor in charge of transport, says passenger numbers are already up.

“We’re waiting for the end of the first quarter to set out initial results, but what I can say is that we’ve topped pre-Covid user rates,” she told RFI.

Environmental benefits unclear

But transport experts say the numbers need a closer look.

To convince more drivers to leave cars at home, commuters say public transport has to provide better service.

Read more on RFI English

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