The answer to the question above is really dependent on what problem you are trying to solve. If you are trying to increase the number of people that take transit, reducing its cost - perhaps all the way to zero - may in fact increase ridership. However, if your transit system doesn’t take people where they want/need to go or doesn’t do it in an effective way that is as good as or better than taking a car, making it free may not accomplish much.
Luxembourg, which recently celebrated its third anniversary of free transit offers some instructive lessons.
In a recent article, Francois Bausch, Vice Prime Minister and Luxembourg’s Minister of Mobility and Public Works and of Defence, says that “You shouldn’t argue against something, but for something,” and goes on to add “I do not make policies against cars, but for another mobility system in which the car has its place.” Speaking of which, Luxembourg “still has the highest car ownership per household in Europe. Around 230,000 people cross the border into Luxembourg each day for work and 75 percent of these journeys are made by car.”
But the change to free transit and improving the transit system (Luxembourg invests several times more money in the rail system than other European countries for example) has eliminated rush hour traffic jams, is very well regarded by the country’s population and promises a more efficient, lower emissions future for its residents.