For some a lifetime trolley-bus pass might sound like the third-place prize in a contest where $1 million goes to the first-place winner. Or maybe the wrong choice of doors in a Let’s Make a Deal episode.
For urban dwellers it might be the economic incentive that gets unnecessary and polluting cars off of crowded city streets. Except that the idea comes out of Spain, at least for now.
In an effort to promote its new tram system, cut congestion and reduce air pollution, the city of Murcia, Spain is offering a lifetime public transit pass to citizens who give up their cars. Murcia’s population of 440,000 is heavily dependent on private vehicles.
Under the city’s incentive campaign, “Mejor en Tranvía,” (Better by Tram), if drivers trade-in their cars they’ll get a pass to ride the city bus and trolley system for free, forever.
Murcia’s tram system, Tranvía, opened in May; it is an 18-kilometer (11-mile) above-ground transit line. Though it recently opened to the public, the tram has been operating in trials since 2007. One line of the tram is completed, but another three lines are on the way.
The city government made a series of cute short video ads to promote the program. It is accepting cars that are debt-free and in working condition. The next phase of the campaign is to part-out the collected vehicles and thus make them go away.
While many cities have campaigns to encourage public transit use, such as free-ride zones or congestion pricing to help limit the number of cars in city centers, this takes those efforts an impressive step further.
Would it work in the U.S.? For one thing America’s attitude toward the use of public transportation is far different from the European approach. America’s love-affair with the auto and addiction to oil would make prying fingers from beloved steering wheels in exchange for the privilege of riding a bus a very tough sell. In addition many state and local jurisdictions currently are battling budget woes and cutting back on transit services, so offering free rides would be another difficult proposition in that climate.
Besides all that the free ride campaign sounds too much like uh-oh, socialism and actually trying to do something about energy independence, quality of life and the environment by influencing how people get around the block.