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UPDATED: August 11, 2008 No.33 AUG.14, 2008
Is Free Public Transportation Sustainable?
Free public transportation is a great dream, but one not so easy to achieve?

Furthermore, given increasing bus passengers, more money is needed for the purchase of buses, more bus traffic lines are needed and more money is needed for the maintenance of relevant facilities. This is actually more than free-of-charge buses, but is a big issue on urban public transportation. Is the government ready in terms of policies and finance to deal with this?

Xin Haiguang (www.thefirst.cn):

How to develop the quality of urban public transportation is now a priority. Free public buses will help to save the public's daily expenses and thus is undoubtedly good news; but this may not necessarily be a good way to solve problems of urban transportation.

Free public transportation demands huge government subsidies. By now, Changning has already spent 7 million yuan on this program and it's still unknown whether there are sufficient funds to support it in the coming years.

In Beijing, where bus fares are still charged but much cheaper than years ago, in 2007 the government offered a subsidy of 4 billion yuan ($570 million). For many local governments, such a huge subsidy may be unaffordable. For those who can afford it nowadays, once local financial subsidies dry up, so too may free public transportation.

It is still a questionable practice to provide citizens with buses free of charge.

In small or medium-sized cities, bus passengers are limited and even if every single person chose to take a bus, there is no big problem. Therefore public buses can be more effectively used.

However, in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, there are already too many bus passengers. If buses are free of charge, some people who used to walk or ride bicycles may turn to public transportation. What if this happens? To ensure a safe and relatively comfortable bus service, the price leverage is still dependable.

Mao Jianguo (Changjiang Times): Countless facts prove that welfare policies may leave after-effects regardless of the practical condition in a city and the benefits might not be so great as they were first thought to be.

I always believe, "cheap public transportation" is more practical than "free public transportation." Throughout the world, no country provides its citizens with free public transportation. This is not only because of the high government expenditures, but also because of the government's financial outlook.

A city's fiscal revenues are limited, and if public buses are free of charge, input on other public projects will be reduced. The most practical and rational way is to offer cheap public transportation and a good transportation environment.

Wang Changming (hlj.rednet.cn): Bus fares are already very cheap. For most people, even if they take buses every day, this is not a huge expenditure. Free public transportation is undoubtedly welcomed, but not essential.

Actually, the call for free public transportation is not as loud as that for more government inputs on medical care, education and housing. The expenditures in these last three areas are rising too sharply for ordinary people to cope with and this is where the free services are really necessary. Besides, how to assist impoverished urban and rural residents is also an urgent problem.

As for the government, it must have a clear idea of present priorities, especially when in most regions fiscal revenues are still not big enough. At present, reforms on the medical care, education and housing systems, as well as relief for the poor, are much more urgent than free public transportation. These problems are important not only because they relate to the public's health, personal development and survival rights, but also because they have existed for a long time and the cost of solving these problems will surely rise if actions are delayed again and again.

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