Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
When Parisian elementary school students head back to class after the summer break this year, life may well turn out to be a little cheaper for them and their families.
Starting in September, Paris is making all public transit free for people under 11, including non-nationals. Preteens aren’t the only ones getting a bonus, either. All people with disabilities will get free public transit until the age of 20, while high school students between the ages of 14 and 18 will be entitled to a 50 percent tariff reduction. To make transit access for this group even easier, any 14- to 18-year-olds who buy a travel pass will also get a free bikeshare account as well.
The plans, which apply across the Greater Paris region and cost an estimated €15 million a year, are part of a staggered plan to make things cheaper for people with mobility challenges. Already last spring, the region introduced a (means-tested) scheme by which adults with disabilities and all people over 65 got a free annual travel pass if they were on a low-to-medium income. This new plan to extend cheap or no fares toward younger people should make the public transit system more widely accessible and prove to be a happy cost-saver for families.
It should do more than that, too. As more families leave their cars at home to capitalize on the low- or no-fare policies for their children, it could push a modal shift that would reduce pollution and congestion on Paris’s roads. Furthermore, the plans should help to consolidate public opinion behind the city’s long, fairly uncompromising battle to whittle away the urban space granted to cars.
This battle has been going on in Paris for some time. As CityLab has reported, the city’s roads are steadily being pedestrianized or seeing their number of car lanes reduced, and the most polluting cars are experiencing a staggered ban from the inner city. The chief critics of these plans have claimed that they are intended for the benefit of wealthier people in the city core at the expense of suburbanites, who often have lower incomes and need cars to make their commutes feasible.
By making public transit ever more accessible and affordable, the Paris region serves to provide its own argument against this, and also open a door for the few who are finding running a car that little bit harder. There are already some murmurs of a close-to-total ban on cars in Paris’s historic center coming in the near future, and ensuring that public transit access to the area is easy for everyone seems a sure-fire way of winning public support. For the time being, however, Paris City Hall has ruled out going down the same route as Luxembourg and making public transit free for all.
This is surely good news for any Parisian young people hoping to save some cash, especially in the inner city, where daily journeys such as the school run are quite easy to make—and commonly made—via public transit.
Some families may nonetheless find their savings under threat from a different quarter. According to the teens interviewed in this article, many due to receive a cost reduction are hoping the savings that parents make will be redirected to another vital outlay: their pocket money.