The residents of the metropolis of Montpellier have been able to travel free of charge every weekend on board buses and trams throughout the metropolitan area since 5 September 2020. The offer applies the residents only. All who live in one of the 31 municipalities of the Montpellier metropolis can apply for the free weekend pass, which is available from the public transport mobile application (M'Ticket TaM) and on the public transport card (TaM card).
Free transport was an key election campaign promise of the mayor of Montpellier and president of Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole Michaël Delafosse who was elected in the 2020 municipal elections. The key objectives of the measure are to improve the environment and living conditions, strengthen the attractiveness of local shops and reduce transport costs for residents of the metropolis, especially for families.
Improve the environment, welfare and local businesses
Delafosse stated, “Twenty years after the cities’ first tram line entered into service, Montpellier faces urgent challenges of global warming and traffic congestion and we must rethink public transport and facilitate access to mobility for all”. In Montpellier, some 40% of CO2 emissions come from transport and road traffic is a key source of air pollution, affecting people’s health. Free public transport should help convince people to start using public transport instead of private cars.
Free public transport should also provide better access to transport and increase the purchasing power of Montpellier residents particularly for those facing problems related to urban poverty and social inclusion. Free public transport for residents should also provide for a better distribution of the taxes paid by Montpellier residents. Michaël Delafosse says, “it is not normal for Montpellier residents to finance transport through their taxes and pay their ticket in the same way as people from Nimes or Sete who come to work in Montpellier”. While visitors from outside the metropolis pay for their public transport only once through the purchase of the ticket, residents of the metropolis pay for it three times: through tickets or subscriptions, through their local taxes (housing tax and property tax) and through a mobility payment, which is paid by companies for their employees.
Finally, free public transport is one of many measures which could support local commerce, particularly in downtown Montpellier, which faces strong competition from peripheral shopping areas that are easily accessible by car.
First phase on the way to total free travel
The introduction of free public transport in the weekends is considered only the first phase in an effort to further increase free access to public transport. Montpellier plans to extend the availability of free public transport in the next 18-36 months. After this first phase, the offer will be extended to seniors and young people, every day. In a third and final phase, the offer should be extended to the entire population of the metropolis. The move makes Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole the first French metropolis to implement free public transport for its inhabitants. And with a population of 475,000 it is much bigger than other cities and urban areas in France that introduced free public transport, like Dunkirk, Châteauroux or Aubagne.
Critics of the system have raised concerns over financing of the plans. It is estimated the annual costs for free transport during weekends amounts to €5.6 million, while the total revenues from ticket sales in 2019 amounted to nearly €39 million. Michaël Delafosse intends to finance this free service from the cities’ general budget and without any tax increase. “We need to be creative”, admits Delafosse, “but we should make a strong political choice and the cost represent some 5% of the city's operating budget. It is therefore tenable.”