Montpellier, Europe's largest metropolis, has switched to free public transportation, becoming an example for other cities. Mayor Michel Delafosse expressed his hope that this initiative will become an inspiration for other major cities. Since December 21, more than 500 000 residents of the metropolis have had access to free transportation, positioning Montpellier as one of the leading European communities following this concept.
Luxembourg, with its 650 000 inhabitants, has introduced free public transportation at the national level since 2020, while Tallinn, the capital of Estonia with 445 000 inhabitants, has been providing this service since 2013. Although France already has more than forty cities such as Dunkirk, Aubagne, and Compiègne offering free public transportation, they are all less populated than Montpellier and its 31 municipalities.
This free service, introduced by Michel Delafosse, was introduced gradually in line with the Socialist mayor's election promises. In 2020, it extended to the weekend for all residents of the Montpellier metropolitan area, and from 2021 it covered the whole week for people under 18 and over 65.
Under the new system, all residents receive free passes, accessible on a smartphone or by card. Instead of requiring confirmation, users will simply provide proof of a valid pass, renewable each year with proof of address. Subscribers grew from 86 000 to 260 000 during the lead-up to the introduction of this service.
For residents outside the metropolitan area, as well as for tourists, the ticket (1,60 euros per person) will remain chargeable and may even increase. This choice, in particular, has been criticized by the opposition, which sees it as a brake on the modal shift. The opposition raises concerns about a possible deterioration in the quality of service and believes it could result in unfair service to those who come from neighboring areas.
To compensate for the loss of ticket revenue, a mobility levy has been introduced for companies with more than 11 employees. This will save money by eliminating the need to maintain ticket validators. In 2022, ticket revenue amounted to 39 million euros, mainly from residents of the metropolis.
The Montpellier metropolis has responded to concerns about a possible deterioration in service quality by investing heavily in upgrading public transportation. 70 new electric buses and 77 streetcar trains have been introduced at a cost of 224 million euros with the hope of increasing ridership by 20%.
According to the Regional Court of Auditors, the introduction of free public transportation in Montpellier is an ambitious project with both positive and negative consequences, and only time will tell how successful this experiment will prove to be.