Luxembourg no longer charges for in-country public transport for all 614,000 citizens and visitors, as of March 1.

This is an open thread.

38 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Luxembourg’s Free Transit”

  1. Glad to see Luxembourg start the discussion with one clear critical understanding: shifting away from a revenue source that’s in the way of service does not count as “free.”

    Let’s have some conversation about “Class Enforcement”, a concept with which I think Europeans are more comfortable than we are. Though I suspect that easy come-back would be that for income-justice in general, their worst gives the average person better treatment than our best.

    My own first question for Luxembourg: Can we see any bus-only lanes with preempt-able traffic signals? Because worldwide, I think it’ll be measures like these that will finally shift urban and suburban travel to transit. Decisive advantage?

    On same right-of-way, a single bus-load of passengers takes a fraction of the lane space as the same number of people who are each alone in their own automobile. Presenting people with a choice: moving 60 mph on transit or either crawling or stopped dead in your car.

    Thanks for the posting, Bruce. Good to see that our own region has some company in a much wider world. And one thing I’d like to see included in our own system’s dealings with young people “K-12”:

    Starting “on-line” and advancing to international exchange programs, our school system needs to develop study and travel opportunities centered on public transit. Terrific chance for a young career to hit the ground not so much running as rolling.

    Mark Dublin

    1. My brother lives in Luxembourg so I’ve been there a couple times (and talked about it more than a few times)! Lux does have quite a few bus lanes… I’m not sure about signal priority. It doesn’t have a metro. It has some suburban commuter rail service, some inter-city rail service, and… last time I was there they were building a tram out toward Kirchberg. From what i saw it looked mostly separate from traffic, but a metro it is not. So, like many parts of Seattle, it relies on surface buses that interline on common corridors in the busiest parts of town.

      Other echoes of Seattle include its growth rate and concerns about housing cost driving people to long commutes. Seattle and Lux, in different ways, present tax advantages for high-paying employers. In both cities disadvantages limiting growth have fallen away in the auto age (the rise of mass air travel and communication tech has made Seattle’s geographic isolation less important; the increasing integration of Europe and friendly relations between France and Germany have made Luxembourg’s defense challenges less important).

      And so… like we do, they find themselves needing to improve transit infrastructure and address housing costs while facing high costs, geographic challenges, and land-use patterns that confound simple answers.

  2. Free transit would also be less important if everybody had enough income to pay for it. It’s when p[eople have to choose between housing, food, medicine, and transit that it becomes a critical issue.

  3. Dancing in the subway. (Vico Neo, Butterfly, Swingrowers. Extra credit for figuring out what country it’s in.

    I wish we had subway stations like that with four escalators in a row, full of people at rush hour, and large artistic walls. Europeans are so lucky to just have those in their cities.

    1. My guess is Hungary. Whose capital, Budapest, also has an excellent streetcar system, whose M 14 car line can take you to a park with the world’s most comprehensive park featuring statues from the totalitarian past.

      And whose current Chief of State, Viktor Orban, if events continue on present “track”, could easily add another giant art-piece memorializing his good buddy who is our own Chief. Perhaps adding a sister city to the DC Streetcar.

      For comparison between the whole world’s transit systems and ours, I’d start with this question: In which part of the world was the average person first able to own a car? While in possession of an enormous mostly-flat border-free country to drive it across?

      Sort of depressing to see how much traffic in southern Sweden is starting to slow down as car-affordability increases. Also disheartening conversation in the Helsinki subway with a girl who pointed out how many Finns now brave their winter by getting on a jet to Spain.

      Never got it straight whether “Future Proofing” makes good or bad things impossible. But advancements in building both tunnels and elevated right of way seem to add practical choices to our own future. Especially good right now if we master them well enough we don’t have to deal with anybody massively undemocratic to get them.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Yes, it looks like Hungary. Another video had a Budapest sign, the author is from Hungary, and you can barely see the sign on the escalator down but it looks vaguely like an o with a long umlaut (two acute accents). I wasn’t sure if one of the a’s had a circle over it, suggesting Sweden, but there are definitely several K’s, suggesting a Germanic/Slavic/Finno-Ugric country, and Hungary is the latter.

      RossB’s Citylab article link and the companion article are spot on. The reason the US has low transit ridership isn’t the long distances or cul-de-sacs, it’s that we reduced transit and built suburbs without transit. People will ride transit if it exists in a meaningful way, but they can’t ride it if it doesn’t exist. And American ridership has gone up and down the past decade as various cities have expanded or reduced transit. We should also organize our suburban downtowns around commuter rail stations rather than depending on P&Rs. Why did we allow Federal Way to grow grow instead of having the same expansion in Auburn or Kent?

  4. Noticed lots of nearly empty buses in downtown today. Would it be wise for Metro to temporarily run a Saturday schedule during the week on most routes, since many employers and restaurants are closing in downtown?

    1. Restaurants are closing? Are retail stores also closing? And by closing, do you mean closing early, or not even opening for the day? Can you name some establishments? I like your route idea. Ridership is way down, and will be for a while.

      1. Chef Kevin Davis’ Restaurants in the city have closed, per the Seattle Times. Nordstrom is closing earlier on weekdays and Saturdays.

    2. Metro knows the overall trend but STB commentators have given mixed evidence. Some bus runs are unusually low while others are at the low end of their normal range. Switching to Saturday could lead to overcrowding like we saw on 3-day weekends before Seattle’s TBD bought full service on those days. And the rescheduling would completely confuse people while we’re still dealing with Connect 2020.

      I took a walk around Capitol Hill and the CD yesterday and the number of people outside as light but not unusual for a drizzly Saturday. The library had several people, Volunteer Park had a dozen, and a small bakery had almost a dozen. I was going to walk down the Howe Street stairs but when I got mostly there I decided to see the Columbia Street bee corridor instead so I turned east through the park to MLK, took the 8 to Cherry Street, and walked back on Columbia. The 8 was light but it still had a handful of people, probably typical for MLK on a drizzly Saturday afternoon.

    3. My anecdotal evidence showed little to no reduction in passengers on the 3/4 and on Link. The bus route, going by two hospitals, is one I’d expect to keep steady use. I would have thought Link volumes would have seen a decline though.

      1. Here on the Eastside, just going by glancing at mostly empty route 271 buses, and observing several different 271 buses stops that are normally crowded, I would estimate that peak PM route 271 bus ridership is down at least 75%.

        The area in and around the Bellevue TC during the PM commute is a ghost town.

      2. If the viral outbreak mimics the 1918 flu and lasts for months, metro should adjust service on low ridership routes temporarily to save money on operating expenses. If this is as big as the 1918 flu, we are likely headed into a recession. It would be good for metro to beef up its reserves.

    4. “Would it be wise for Metro to temporarily run a Saturday schedule during the week on most routes, since many employers and restaurants are closing in downtown?”

      Even if they did, union rules would probably require Metro to pay bus drivers as if it were a regular weekday; in which case, you may as well just run the regular weekday schedule. The fuel savings alone is not sufficient to justify reducing service.

      Hopefully, Metro will be given a pass on its latest performance report, as a result of the virus.

  5. I’ve been to Luxembourg (both the city, and parts of the country outside it). I’m sure the city has plenty of bike riders, as it has a major plateau, along with a lower area. I’ve ridden that public elevator they show in the video.

    Anyway, I think gas taxes are a great way to pay for transit, as are congestion taxes, and taxicab taxes (including Uber/Lyft). That becomes self balancing, in a way. If lots of people are driving, then transit is well funded. If people no longer drive, then transit may be crowded, but it is much easier (politically) to find another funding source.

  6. Just think if $1B was not spent on homeless annually what could be done. That sure would service a lot on bonds, especially right now.

    1. Havi, question that kind of begs itself: When your own home goes away because you get sick, evicted when the rent went up, or thrown out of work, what do you think the rest of us ought to do with the money we were just about to spend on you?

      More productive, though, is to think about what in the way of public works, including things like transit, could produce results that will pay us $5B back, and give you the trade skills and income to buy back your house and keep it.

      Perfect example, a few months ago, didn’t I read that a massive swath of wooden electric poles literally rotted in half and demolished Lord knows how much property?

      Personally, though, could be an age thing but I like the way Franklin Roosevelt’s administration handled it. Public works jobs whose all-around benefits we’re still collecting.

      But if by “homeless” you mean “mentally ill”, very likely whatever money it takes to get Western State Mental Hospital its accreditation back will repay us taxpayers a fortune in personal and property damage saved.

      Where the red ink on the balance sheet is actually human blood, black column is always an unappetizing shade of sticky dark brown.

      Mark Dublin

      1. whatever money it takes to get Western State Mental Hospital its accreditation back will repay us taxpayers a fortune in personal and property damage saved.

        100% agree. The root of the “homeless” problem can be directly traced back to the idea that it was inhuman to institutionalize the mentally ill. Wasn’t hard to see how that thought was genuinely considered to be true as we were just coming out of an era when lobotomies and electro-shock therapy were considered sound medical practice. Of course it was easy to push through politically because a large contingent with a nod and a wink agreed because they saw it simply as a way to cut government spending.

      2. Only about 30% of the local homeless population has a mental illness. By definition, that can’t really be the root of the homelessness problem.

      3. The homeless problem started in the 1980s when the SRO hotels were closed and zoning was tightened to outlaw missing middle housing and make even more areas single-family only. The inpatient mental health institutions were closed at the same time so it’s hard to quantify who was which. But the overwhelming issue now is the rapid increase in rents, which is causing more homeless and is making it move up the economic ladder into the middle class. The homeless numbers go up faster or slower in tandem with rents.

      4. Those percentages are supported here. But it also says 50% are addicted to drugs. I’d argue that adiction is a form of mental illness. Anyway, my point is that the genesis of this problem was the wholesale elimination of the mental hospitals that happened starting in the 70’s. Another stat in the linked article, “Approximately 70 percent of homeless veterans are estimated to be substance abusers.” There is absolutely no excuse for not providing adequate VA services. I know it’s damn near impossible to give Trump credit for anything but he has started the process of improving an extremely broken VA. Why it’s broken has equal blame shame on the Ds and the Rs.

      5. the overwhelming issue now is the rapid increase in rents

        That’s an anomaly in just a few high tech places like NY, Seattle and SF. There are lots of place in the US where rents are cheap. Heck, Detroit will homestead you if you’re willing to come in and rehap an existing home. Of course it’s hard to find a blue collar job in Detroit but if your a tech worker you can work anywhere. I’ll go out on a limb and say most of the homeless that flocked to Seattle came not for tech jobs but handouts and an extremely stupid law un-enforcement policy.

      6. They didn’t flock to Seattle; most of them are in the same city they were before they were homeless. What good are handouts when you’re still living miserably?

        The inexpensive cities are the same cities that have no jobs or the jobs don’t pay more than the federal minimum wage. One step up from homelessness are people working eighty hours a week to keep a roof over their heads.

      7. They didn’t flock to Seattle; most of them are in the same city they were before they were homeless

        Total BS. The “statistics” that support that bogus claim were based on last declared address. A scam of the homeless industrial complex.

    2. How are you getting $1 billon on homeless, and is it local or national? What bonds? There’s not a problem servicing bonds now. If the virus spreads to the homeless we’ll be in a lot worse situation because you can’t quarantine people in their homes when they have no homes. The homeless have the worst healthcare and their bodies are stressed and weakened from, you know, being homeless and not having a warm quiet place to sleep. If ten years ago we had fully funded universal housing and rapid rehousing, there would be no homeless people now. Or at least, only a tiny fraction who refuse even free housing.

      1. If the virus spreads to the homeless we’ll be in a lot worse situation

        More of a “when” than an “if”. Makes glaringly obvious why for public health reasons the “look the other way” policies of cities like Seattle and LA were terrible public policy. OTOH, since the agenda was to manufacture a crises that would require large amounts of government spending this just takes it to the next level. And Corona virus is just an opening act to when Bubonic plaque comes roaring back.

      2. “Makes glaringly obvious why for public health reasons the “look the other way” policies of cities like Seattle and LA were terrible public policy”

        What would you do instead? Put the homeless in jail, shoot them, or run them out of town?

        “the agenda was to manufacture a crises that would require large amounts of government spending”

        Conspiracy theory.

      3. Not a conspiracy theory at all. Seattle has created a homeless industrial complex. Just look at the budget vs the results. The more they spend the bigger the problem. Spend money on enabling destructive behavior and what do you get?

      4. Losing an apartment due to a rent increase, condo conversion, losing a job, or a large medical bill is destructive behavior?

        “The more they spend the bigger the problem.”

        That’s because they’re not spending enough to stop the increase. It’s the same issue with housing: they’re not building enough so more people are competing for the same unit and rents go up. There’s also the hidden costs: having a society where some people are forced to live outside due to lack of money corrodes social cohesion and trust and leads to those destructive behaviors you’re concerned about.

      5. If it’s really just an issue of people being able to not afford the rent in the city, they can move outward until the rent gets cheaper. Or, move to another city or small town. Yes, living close to work, in an area with good transit is nice, but it’s not worth being homeless over.

      6. There is a budget vs. results issue at hand here, I will grant you that. Corrugated plastic bike campers run 150 dollars a piece before labor costs. Shelter for all should precede housing for all. Baby steps. The homeless of King County could be sheltered for less than Seattle spends on the crisis. That said I doubt Bernie would accept seeing clean and orderly camper cities in city/county parks, and that would be part of the actual solution.

      7. What needs to happen is the county needs to say, “We’ve got 12,500 homeless people, we’re going to build 12,500 apodments, tiny houses, and/or regular apartments right now. And then we’re going to build 150,000 apartments to saturate the market so that rents stop rising and everyone who’s cost-burdened or displaced from the city they want to be in can find a place they can afford. And we’re gong to make sure the housing supply keeps up with the population increase so we don’t end up in this situation again.” The money the city is spending on perpetual day shelters and dealing with the problems of people living outside is wasted in some sense, but it takes time to get the politicians to recognize the priorities, and doing something is better than doing nothing in the meantime.

      8. Ro my knowledge, no city in US history has built 12,500 units of any kind in a year. I agree we need 150,000+ units in Seattle. But 150 dollar shelters can house someone tomorrow until those 150,000+ units are built. The homeless who would die waiting for this housing boom are not acceptable losses. Shelter must come before housing. People’s lives demand it.

      9. I’m not expecting them to be done in one year. But we need to start with a commitment and a plan, otherwise it will never get done. If we had built 20,000 additional units per year in the past seven years we wouldn’t be in this position. If we don’t start now then in seven years we’ll be in an even worse position and more like the Bay Area where rents have gone to $3000 and the average house costs $1.5 million. Yes, we need shelters in the meantime, but we need a definite plan; we need to get started.

        As for moving to other areas to find something you can afford, prices in south King County are rising faster than in Seattle. The same thing has started happening in cities and towns all across the country — not just the coastal tech cities. Seattle reached a tipping point in 2012 when all the slack was squeezed out of the market — we finally ran out of mid-century dingbats and uglytrons that remained untouched. Even if they haven’t been torn out yet most people are competing for them and prices are making them unaffordable to their former residents. Other cities reached that tipping point later but they have crossed it. There are a few depressed areas where it isn’t happening, but those generally have no jobs or only minimum-wage jobs that aren’t enough to live on.

        The reason they’re passing the tipping point now is construction halted in 2008 for several years but the population kept growing. Plus, hedge funds bought up vast numbers of foreclosed houses and are now renting them out for a premium, so those are off the ordinary market. And the rise of Airbnb. If none of those had happened, they wouldn’t have reached the tipping point until later, but they would have eventually reached it.

      10. 1 bedroom studios in the rougher neighborhoods of Seatac run 1,700 per month. I definitely agree that prices in South King County are rising fast.

  7. Lindblom on reducing transit during coronavirus ridership loss ($). ST’s ridership is down 25%. Metro may have a smaller decrease. CT is considering reducing peak-express runs to UW and downtown. Jarrett Walker says reduce expresses first. ST’s Rogoff and Balducci and the public health agency advocate keeping baseline/coverage service running as a lifeline. Walker notes that reducing off-peak service makes the nework less useful. The ridership loss allows people to social-distance anyway.

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