Stavanger has become the first Norwegian city to offer free public transport to its residents. From 1 July 2023, residents of the city do not have to pay for their ticket when travelling by public buses, trains or boats in the Kolumbus “Nord-Jæren” zone, which covers Stavanger and the neighbouring towns of Randaberg, Sola and Sandnes.
With the decision to offer free public transport to residents, the local authorities hope to incentivise more individuals to choose public transport over private vehicles, leading to a greener and more sustainable transport system. Stavanger currently has one of the highest car use rates of major cities in Norway. The decision comes as part of the city’s broader vision to prioritise environmental consciousness, improve air quality, and enhance the quality of life for those who live there. The goal is that at least 70% of the current number of car trips in the city will eventually be made on foot, by bicycle or by public transport.
Stavanger’s Mayor, Kari Nessa Nordtun, underlines that the move also aims to provide relief to residents with tight budgets. While Norway has one of the highest average median income levels in Europe, the use of public transport can still be a costly affair. For a family of four, the cost of using the bus can easily exceed NOK 15,000 annually (some €1,350 euro), even with discounts.
While the use of transport is free to residents, it is not for the city authorities. The estimated cost of the policy is almost 200 million kroner, approximately €17.7 million.
“Our municipality has consistently posted strong annual results, which have enabled us to offer this free service,” said Stavanger Mayor, Kari Nessa Nordtun. The city has estimated that this budget should cover the costs of the ‘free service’ until 2024. Whether the city will provide additional funding once the current budget has been depleted, remains to be seen. It may depend on the outcome of local elections, scheduled for September 2023. The initiatives certainly seems popular with many residents, as some 40,000 have already ordered their free public transport tickets.