With a population of 602,000, Luxembourg is one of Europe’s smallest countries – yet it suffers from major traffic jams.
But that could be about to change. As of March 1, 2020 all public transport – trains, trams and buses – in the country is now free.
The government hopes the move will alleviate heavy congestion and bring environmental benefits, according to Dany Frank, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Mobility and Public Works.
Tiny country, big traffic
Landlocked Luxembourg is one of the richest countries in Europe, with the highest per capita GDP in the European Union.
Taking up 2,586 square kilometers, Luxembourg is roughly the size of Rhode Island. From the capital of Luxembourg City, Belgium, France and Germany can all be reached by car in half an hour.
High housing costs, especially in Luxembourg City, mean more than 180,000 of its workforce commute from those neighboring countries every day.
“Luxembourg is a very attractive place for jobs,” explains Geoffrey Caruso, a professor at the University of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research specializing in land use and transportation.
But its “booming economy” and high concentration of jobs have led to congestion issues, he says.
In 2016, Luxembourg had 662 cars per 1,000 people, and driving is a “primary means of transportation” for commuters, according to a 2017 report by the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Infrastructure.
That year, drivers in Luxembourg City spent an average of 33 hours in traffic jams. It fared worse than European cities Copenhagen and Helsinki, which have comparable population sizes to all of Luxembourg – yet drivers in both only spent an average of 24 hours in traffic.
Park and rides around Luxembourg’s borders in the three neighboring countries, however, will encourage commuters to use free mass transit, according to Frank.
Free transport for all
Luxembourg’s public transport system covers the whole country and costs $562 million (€508 million) per year to run. Each year, it generates around $46 million in ticket sales, according to the ministry.
The government is putting up the cost of making it free, Frank says. “The country at this very moment is in really good shape. We, the government, want the people to benefit from the good economy.”
Caruso is concerned that making transport free may unintentionally deter people who would normally walk or cycle in urban areas. “Rather than walking 500 meters, you see a bus coming and you say, ‘I (can) get on and travel 500 meters because it’s free,’” he says.
He adds, however, that the new scheme can signal important changes ahead when it comes to Luxembourg’s reliance on driving.
“(The government) might say, ‘It’s important that you ditch your car, and look, we made public transport free’ – and maybe this is helpful given the immense cultural shift we need.”
Originally published in 2019, updated March 2, 2020.