Dunkirk Becomes Europe's First Big City to Offer Free Buses

The city also hired 42 more drivers and added 45 new Wi-Fi connected buses that run on natural gas.


A bus drives on the streets of Paris. (Art Konovalov / Shutterstock.com)

Free urban transportation is a growing trend. The port city of Dunkirk in France is embracing this program in a big way.

The project in Dunkirk initially began as a pilot and only included weekends and holidays. Bus usage increased 29 percent on Saturdays and a whopping 78 percent on Sundays, according to Fleet Europe, proving that it would work. It was expanded last month to include bus transportation every day of the week.

The idea came from Dunkirk's mayor Patrice Vergriete when he was running for election in 2014. Before the initiative very few people, generally poor people used public transportation in the city and cars ruled the streets. Vergriete envisioned a different Dunkirk, a sustainable city that provides services for all its population. To do so, he made a campaign promise to make public transportation free for all. In Dunkirk, a city of 200,000, that means buses.

Vergriete foresaw multiple benefits. "Poor citizens who were already riding buses would save cash. Seniors could have an easier time making social connections,” he told Citylab. “Families with cars who had never thought to ride transit to parks and stadiums would be prompted to consider the bus."

Besides the free fares, bus service has improved dramatically in Dunkirk. Bus routes have been expanded and special bus lanes have been added. The bus company, DK"Bu has hired 42 more drivers and added 45 new Wi-Fi connected buses that run on natural gas according to Metro Politics.eu.

Free urban transportation is spreading. In 2015, Tallinn in Estonia became the first European capital to offer fare-free service on buses, trams, and trolleybuses. Worjceiech Keblowski, an expert on urban research at Brussels Free University, told The Guardian that “in 2017 there were 99 fare-free public transport networks around the world: 57 in Europe, 27 in North America, 11 in South America, 3 in China and one in Australia."

Vergriete considers the free fares a success. He told The Guardian: “Before the bus was for those who had no choice: the young, the old, the poor who don’t have cars. Now it’s for everyone.” He admits that free public transportation will not work for everyone or everywhere but that it is good for the environment, and for social justice.

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