Editorial | Swifter better than cheaper

In a country where commuting by car is a luxury, investments in public transport are best spent by making it more convenient

June 7th, 2012 6:22 am| by admin
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Regular riders of the S-train will know that Copenhagen’s commuter rail service is a generally reliable, comfortable, albeit far from perfect system. They also know that given the cost of a ticket, it ought to be a lot better.

Copenhagen, according to a ranking of 80 frequently visited cities worldwide, has the second highest public transport fares in the world. (Only commuters in Oslo pay more.) That’s something of an insult, given the frequent delays and service interruptions. 

 

Public transport, though, seldom costs more than the average working person can afford, and it’s only natural to assume that ticket prices in high-wage Copenhagen cost more than in Quito. But, statistics also show that over the past 20 years the cost of a basic two-zone ticket has shot up from nine kroner in 1992 to 24 kroner today. Adjusted for inflation, fares have increased twice as fast as prices in general. In addition, DSB has implemented hidden cost hikes by adding

fare zones, and by increasing the number of zones passengers need to pass through before hitting the maximum ‘Alle zoner’ fare.

 

Part of the reason DSB, the state-owned rail operator, can get away with the rapid price hikes is that public transport, even in our bike-crazy capital, is the only option for many. Even though the fare increases of the past two decades have closed the price gap, commuting by car is still outrageously expensive. 

 

For these people, the best way to use some of the planned billion kroner investment in the public transport network would be to lower fares on monthly passes and for those who commute the furthest. 

 

But when it comes to commuting, cost is only part of the equation, and it is rarely the most important. Other factors such as convenience and travel time often play a larger role in people’s decisions. Fortunately for bus and train operators, public transport, in most cases, still takes less time than driving. Keeping it that way is vital if public authorities want to keep commuters from finding alternative methods of travel.

 

The Socialistisk Folkeparti election promise of lower fares would be a welcome change from the constant price hikes of the past two decades, but it’s a pledge we’re willing to let them get out of if they can provide something even more important: progress. For commuters, that’s what really matters – whether it’s speeding past long lines of motorway traffic or seeing improved service. And if the pledged billion kroner investment means we’ll get the world’s second-best public transport system to go with our second-highest fares, then that’s all the progress we could ask for.

(All photos: Ella Navarro)
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