The Tyee reports: Ten years ago the people of Hasselt, Belgium embarked upon a bold experiment: no more charging for bus rides. Ever since, they’ve been proving the idea can work wonderfully. This city of 70,000 residents, with 300,000 commuters from the surrounding area, has made traveling by bus easy, affordable, and efficient. Now, people in Hasselt often speak of “their” bus system, and with good reason. The Boulevard Shuttle leaves you waiting for at most five minutes, the Central Shuttle has a 10 minute frequency, and system-wide you never have to wait more than a half an hour.
Hasselt City Council’s principal aim in introducing free public transport was to promote the new bus system to such a degree that it would catch on and become the natural option for getting around. And it did — immediately. On the first day, bus ridership increased 783 per cent! The first full year of free-fare transit saw an increase of 900 per cent over the previous year; by 2001, the increase was up to 1,223 per cent and ridership continues to go up every day.
A prime lesson offered by Hasselt is the fact that they radically improved the bus system as well as their walking and cycling infrastructure before they removed the fare boxes. In 1996, there were only three bus routes with about 18,000 service hours/year. Today, there are 11 routes with more than 95,000 service hours/year.
The transit system in Hasselt cost taxpayers approximately $1.9 million in 2006. This amounts to one per cent of their municipal budget and makes up about 26 per cent of the total operating cost of the transit system. The Flemish national government covered the rest (approximately $5.4 million) under a long-term agreement.
Via The Tyee