By Fergus Efe O’Donoghue
The Green Party have proposed free public transportation for all students in the follow-up to this month’s budget, at a considerable expected cost to the taxpayer.
Though it has not yet been specified if the party’s cost calculation also factors in the potential cost-benefits of such a decision, leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan, has said the measure would cost the taxpayer around €60 million.
The decision can be traced back to Deputy Ryan having asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, last July, what the estimated annual cost would be to halve the cost of student Leap Cards, though it was not clear whether the question addressed the cost of fares or of the Leap Card itself.
A short video on the party’s official website explains the rationale behind the proposal: “It’ll save money for parents, it’ll save money for students, it’s something we already give to a lot of secondary school students and indeed to older people when they retire… We’ve seen it work in other countries like Germany, we believe the time is right to do it here”.
SIN spoke to Kevin Leyden, Professor of Political Science here in NUI Galway, and also Co-Director of the Creative, Liveable and Sustainable Communities Cluster of the Whitaker Institute, for comment on the announcement. “In general, I favour any effort to enable people to walk more, cycle more, or take more public transport. In light of that, I would lean toward supporting the idea of free public transportation for students,” Professor Leyden said.
“It isn’t entirely clear to me why, currently, we already do provide free bus service and transportation for the elderly, when some of the same concerns would be true of young people”. He continued, “They’re less likely to own a car; they’re far less likely to be able to afford a car… And we do know that the riskiest drivers are young people. So, you are in a way reducing that risk of death and injury”.
“I think the taxpayer would see direct benefit. They would see direct benefit from a reduction of traffic, reduction of air pollution, reduction of carbon footprint, health benefits, and a reduction of the likelihood of death or serious injury from car crashes.”
Professor Leyden explained that there are several universities across Europe and North America – such as KU Leuven, or West Virginia University (WVU) – where the university itself provides a similar arrangement for its students. In WVU, a €20 bus pass lasts students and faculty through the year, and for the former, an extra fee is included in the college tuition fees. In the case of WVU, the local bus company Mountain Lion is enthusiastic about receiving a guaranteed annual income, which Professor Leyden says incentivises transport companies to invest more in growth and better services.
While Fianna Fáil have announced that they plan to freeze fares for three years and “drastically reduce the price of young people’s fares,” Fine Gael TD for Dublin Bay South Kate O’Connell has suggested making the National Transportation Authority–supported ‘Kids Go Free’ system permanent over its current annual summer form. Sinn Féin has called for free public transport for homeless children living in emergency accommodation, beyond the school term. Leap Card transport in Dublin is covered by a capping system, in which students can only spend up to €5 a day on bus services, or €7.50 if the card is used across different modes of transport.