Should Public Transit Be Free? Freakonomics Asks the Experts

Some have argued that free transit can’t work, citing a variety of reasons. As Stephen Dubner points out on his recent podcast for Freakonomics Radio, “it’s complicated.”

In the podcast, he speaks with Boston Mayor Wu, Robbie Makinen from the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, UCLA transportation researcher Brian Taylor, London transportation executive Shashi Verma, and a traffic planner in Stockholm who believes so thoroughly in free fares that he shows people how to dodge them, going so far as to create an “insurance plan” to pay their citations if they got caught.

The arguments for free transit are many. Dr. Destiny Thomas recently articulated an equity perspective on the issue in a conversation with Kea Wilson on Streetsblog USA. People can’t afford transit fares, she said, and because we live in a society where basic needs are monetized, they are stuck. Arguing that transit subsidies are “unfair” puts the burden of solving issues like climate change, once again, on the people who are suffering and struggling the most.