Dunkirk introduces free public transport

Tuesday 16th October 2018 | Jake

The French port city of Dunkirk has been running a free public transport scheme for over a month. Dunkirk had run a free bus service on weekends and national holidays, but on the 1st of September the offer was extended to cover every day. The offer is available on the city’s buses to residents and visitors alike.

Patrice Vergriete, mayor of Dunkirk, promised to introduce free transport to the city in his election campaign. Over a month since its introduction, Vergriete is buoyant about the scheme, with transport use up 85% on some routes.

Could a similar scheme work in London?


Bus fares had previously constituted about 10% of the transport network’s running costs. Instead of directly trying to make up for this loss of funding, Vergriete has called the offer a “political choice”, viewing it as an investment in the city, while also insisting there will be no hike in taxes for local households to cover the shortfall.

Home to roughly 200,000 people, Dunkirk is the largest city in terms of population to provide public transport free of charge. The scheme was inspired by a wave of similar projects sweeping across Europe, as authorities combat sinking public transport usage, paired with rising use of personal cars.

In 2013 Tallinn, Estonia, became the first European capital to provide free transport to its residents, although the offer is unavailable to visitors. There are a reported 57 fare-free public transport networks operating in Europe, with that number set to grow.

Larger cities will find it difficult to adopt fare-free transport schemes, as fares make up a higher proportion of the network’s running costs. For example, Paris is believed to cover about half of its transport system’s running costs through fares. But this hasn’t stopped the Parisian mayor, Anne Hidalgo, from suggesting she could look into a fare-free service in the future.