RATB, the state-owned agency which operates surface-level public transport in Bucharest, last week published a report claiming that almost half of all passengers on its buses, trams and trolleybuses do not have valid tickets. Given that those who do pay for tickets are purchasing the cheapest public transport tickets in the European Union (one trip on a Bucharest bus costs just 1.30 lei: that’s around €0.29) it is no wonder that RATB runs at a loss and requires government subsidies to keep it going. Last year, RATB required 540 million lei in subsidies. A former director, Mihai Campureanu, has estimated that ticket sales account for just 30 per cent of RATB’s annual budget.
Given that the ticketing system requires keeping hundreds of kiosks around the city open seven days a week, as well as employing (generally useless) ticket inspectors, would it not simply be better to make buses, trams and trolleybuses free?
Such a system exists elsewhere in Europe (in Tallinn, for example) and appears to be successful, although not without issues.
There is also of course the moral aspect of making public transport free. It would send a clear message to residents of Bucharest: the age of the car is nearing its end. Add in a charge for all cars entering the city centre and the scheme could even be self-funding.
As should now be obvious to just about anyone, the good people of Bucharest are not going to get out of their cars and onto buses willingly: they will need to be nudged, and offering a free alternative is one way of doing so, especially if accompanied by other measures, which we would suggest include (but are not limited to):
A congestion charge for the city centre. The area which affected would be roughly defined by Magheru to the east, Buzesti to the west, Piata Victoriei to the north and Piata Unirii to the south. Residents and taxis exempt. There would also be a total ban on parking in the area, except in designated car parks.
Public transport solidarity tax paid by the owners of all cars domiciled in Bucharest: amount to be paid depends on value of car (the more expensive the car, the higher the tax). Alternatively, the tax could be added to the price of petrol and diesel.
More buses, trams and trolleybuses to improve services and ease crowding. There should be a vehicle on every route every couple of minutes at peak times.
Introduction of real, heavily-policed public transport lanes at peak times, with heavy fines and a ‘no tolerance’ approach to any breaches.
Bucharest Life: because a better Bucharest is possible.
In other RATB news, we hear that Activ cards will soon once again be valid on the metro (they have not been valid since April last year). RATB has apparently almost finished paying off its debts to the operator of the metro, Metrorex, which has agreed to accept RATB cards once the debt has been paid in full.
In even more RATB news, those of you who love nothing more than circling Bucharest on a tram can now once again indulge themselves: the No. 1 tram, which was split into two lines for much of the past two years, now once again does a full circuit of the city (although you might have to switch vehicles at Sura Mare/Eroii Revolutiei). More about that in this post from 2011.