Tribune: “Free public transport is a response to the social and ecological emergency”

Following the column on secularism published in Marianne in early February, Michaël DELAFOSSE, Mayor of Montpellier, President of Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole, publishes a new column on free public transport in L’Obs.

He reaffirms the importance of such a measure in responding to the social and ecological emergency. After those under 18 and those over 65, it will take effect for all residents of the metropolis by the end of 2023.

“Free public transport is a response to the social and ecological emergency”
Tribune published on the L’Obs website on Monday, March 21, 2022 at. 10:54.

Faced with the social and ecological emergency to which our old relationship to mobility no longer responds, we can not remain deaf or powerless. The price of petrol now exceeds € 2 and greatly affects the purchasing power of families. Beyond that, the world’s geopolitics reminds us that our dependence on oil weakens France’s sovereignty. Reality catches up with us: it is heavy.

We need to show courage and audacity: Free public transport is one of the solutions because it is a powerful measure of social and ecological justice. It is a huge opportunity for local communities to reconcile environmental requirements and the issue of purchasing power.

Make the choice of free public transport, it means giving everyone the opportunity to participate in the ecological transformation while strengthening their purchasing power, by encouraging people to move differently. It is a concrete measure that really changes people’s lives because it saves hundreds of euros a year. The mobility policies implemented to preserve our planet involve major changes in habits. We cannot demand sacrifices without transforming the supply of public transport ourselves.

Make the choice of free public transport, it means anchoring our environmental policies in reality. It is an opportunity for every official to draw a new vision of travel in the city, by offering a single alternative to car travel, thus making it possible to increase the quality of life and well-being in the city. It makes it possible to build a city where the air is breathable, where the health of its inhabitants is improved by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Make the choice of free public transport, it means meeting the demands of the younger generations, who, regardless of their sensitivity, expect brave choices. Our responsibility is to do everything possible to offer them a perspective, free them from dependence on carbon energies and give them the choice back. We thus give them direction, hope and a message of confidence in the future. Offering free public transport is also a way of strengthening equality, because it does not require mobility to obtain and finance a driving license, nor of the level of prosperity.

Free public transport is part of our society’s winning narrative of progress. Faced with illiteracy in the 19th century, Republicans opted for free public schooling. On the impoverishment and fragility of the 20th century, they responded with the universality of social security to protect. In an age of expensive oil, the separation of neighborhoods and the climate crisis, the time of mobility is forcing us to once again make choices that are up to the challenges of the century.

Some criticize that nothing is free. However, the use of roads is financed by taxes: by those who use them, as well as by those who do not use them. Establishing free transportation, of course, has a cost to a community; but politics is about making choices and accepting them. More than ever before, we have to impose new forces of change.

Already, many territories with free access are implementing or experimenting, such as Aubagne, Dunkirk and Montpellier, or elsewhere in the world, such as Tallinn. In Montpellier, a metropolis of 500,000 inhabitants, we introduced free weekends six weeks after our election, then for those under 18 and over 65 all week. From the end of 2023, free access will be effective for all Metropolis residents. It was a flagship promise in the local election campaign in 2020, the only one on the ballot on our list, it will become a reality midway.

In addition, free access must go hand in hand with a proactive policy to improve the quality of public transport. In Montpellier, a massive investment plan will make it possible to create a new high-level service bus network, a fifth tram line, the extension of the first tram line and the creation of a transport police to ensure safety. It complements other important measures relating to active mobility with an investment plan of EUR 150 million, enabling the creation of new safe cycle paths, support for the purchase of an electric bicycle or the expansion of pedestrians.

The areas have the opportunity to lead the environmental and social strategy by investing in public transport. Free public transport must be an inspiring idea: it is one of the solutions to the crisis we are going through. It is a response to those who renounce the logic of progress or who promote demobilization. It is the modernity – and honor – of the left to know how to reconcile its response to the cost of living with an answer to the climate crisis by facilitating the mobility of all, regardless of income. On the left, we continue to be guided by the ideas of progress and justice, while acting for ecological change.

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