Is There Such Thing as a Free Train?

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

This may be counter-intuitive, but did you realize that instituting limited periods during which all passengers can ride on a train system for free is a measure that can actually pay for itself, and even turn a profit, from the increased numbers of paying passengers who will be attracted to ride the trains during the free period and beyond?

At least there is the strong suggestion that this is true in Denmark. In January train travel was made free for trains running in the region of Svendborg, located on the south part of the big Danish island of Fyn – the one lying between the Jutland mainland to the west and the island of Sjaelland (where Copenhagen is located) to the east. A subsequent study undertaken together by the Danish traffic ministry and the Danish State Railways (DSB) – and reported at length by journalist Rasmus Lindboe in the Danish opinion newspaper Information (Analysis: The State Can Make a Profit on Free Trains) – shows that ridership increased by 25% as a result of this initiative, even after January was over. What’s more, one third of the 150,000 new riders attracted to the trains would have ordinarily gotten where they needed to go using their cars. The DSB gained back the money it originally lost by not charging fares within three months from the resulting increased ridership. (more…)

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