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    Eco Cities 2013 – a Free Ride?

    By Mandeep Bhandal, on 3 October 2013

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    ISRS Senior Research Fellow, Chris Cook provides an account of his experience at the ECOCITY, the World Summit on sustainable cities held in Nantes, France on 25 – 27 September.

    One of the subjects discussed on several panels during the 2013 Eco Cities conference was transport policy and the conflict between optimal policy from an ecological perspective, and from a conventional economic perspective was evident.

    Firstly, at a session on ‘Urban Services: what is the right price?”, Allan Alakula, Head of Tallinn’s Euopean Union Ofice in Brussels, outlined the policy in Tallinn, Estonia implemented earlier this year to make all public transport free.

    It was pointed out in discussion that ‘free’ does not mean ‘without cost’ and a lively discussion soon developed in relation to the basis of the local taxes which fund the service, which apparently fall upon local income.  It was pointed out that – leaving environmental issues to one side – this meant that local property owners, the value of whose property benefits greatly from good public transport links, were literally getting a free ride at the expense of those who do not own property.

    Anders Roth, Environmental Manager of the City of Gothenburg’s Traffic and Public Transport Authority was one of my co-panellists the next day on the subject of ‘Local Environmental Taxation: Incentives and/or subsidies’.

    He outlined Gothenburg’s interesting new approach to congestion charging of ring roads, and their experience in relation to the results of a policy to tax employer-provided car parking.  It is not straightforward to encourage intermodal shifts without unforeseen consequences.

    In relation to free public transport, he said that Gothenburg had considered it, but had rejected it because it was seen as a regressive policy which benefited the better off relative to the less well-off.

    I outlined in discussion that a local levy be made on carbon road fuel, and that a ‘carbon dividend’ might then be paid equally to Gothenburg citizens in credits returnable in payment for public transport use.  The outcome would then be that those with above average carbon transport fuel use make a net transfer to those with below average use, and that greater funding for improved public transport services is also available.