Kiruna's experiment with free public transportation is deemed a success

A buss in Kiruna, Sweden. Photo credit: BeeFortyTwo (cc)

Kiruna is a small town with less than 20 000 inhabitants located in the most northern parts of Sweden. It's a typical mining community, with iron ore extraction being the key industry of the area. In fact, Kiruna has been an important seat for iron ore extraction and mining industry in Sweden since the early 20th century. So it's not the typical city you would expect to introduce free public transportation for all its inhabitants. But the city of Kiruna did just that in 2011, and the results have been amazing.

"The result is incredible," said Niklas Sirén, Vice Chairman of the municipal executive board in Kiruna. "We did not dare set a figure as a goal. There is a very strong car culture, it is sparsely populated here and we figured Kiruna residents are deeply rooted in their driving. We were pleasantly surprised. More people are choosing to leave their cars more often."

Niklas Sirén and his local Left Party was behind the suggestion to introduce free public transportation in 2011 on a trial basis. Back then, in 2010, only 120 000 trips were made. But since free public transit was introduced, travel has tripled in Kiruna and the experiment has now become permanent. Last year more than 387 000 trips were made in Kiruna.

"This has broken a downward spiral for public transport," Sirén said to ETC. "Previously, there would mostly be only empty buses. Now comes the expectation of more rides and lines. The next step is to expand public transport."

But it's not completely free. To be able to use the service, Kiruna residents need to pay 100 SEK, around $14, for a buss card each year. The free public transport does not apply to tourists and other temporary visitors whom instead need to buy tickets to be able to travel. But the card is also available for asylum seekers, and students that lives outside the municipal. For Kiruna, the free public transportation costs around 3.3 million SEK per year.


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