Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has a strong track record of environmental policies, wants to make it easier for kids and families to travel the city sustainably by using transit or bike share.
Starting September 1 of this year, the mayor tweeted, every Parisian kid under age 11 will be able to use public transit free of charge. Older youth will get a 50% reimbursement on their Imagine’R travel card. And the Paris bike share system, Velib–which recently rolled out electric bikes–will be free for everyone under the age of 18 (kids as young as 14 can rent bikes). Parisians with disabilities under the age of 20 will also be able to ride transit for free.
Hidalgo’s plan covers all trips through Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region, and is expected to cost €15 million per year. While most of the perks are aimed at young people for the time being, it’s not difficult to imagine a ripple effect: If a parent’s young child can ride the Métro for free, it’s more likely that the parent will opt to pay the fair to accompany them, if need be.
These recommendations, Hidalgo tweeted, emerged from a report by members of her administration investigating ways to boost use of both public transit and cycling. Paris already has fairly high transit ridership, with over 60% of people in the region opting for the Métro, bus, or regional rail. Hidalgo wants to increase that number. She began hinting at a plan to make public transit free as far back as last spring, when she floated the idea as a means to curb pollution, and authorized her administration to look at the feasibility.
Paris is following cities like London, where children under 11 travel for free, and Berlin, where young people receive a discount on transit. Hidalgo has also hinted that she wants to expand free transit access for low-income families. Predictably, Hidalgo has received pushback from conservatives, who said that free transit will push higher costs for system upkeep onto taxpayers. But the mayor has shown herself unafraid to stand up to conservative critiques: After facing criticism and a lawsuit from the right-wing auto lobby after closing a road next to the Seine to cars, she stood her ground and the road remains car-free.
She’ll likely have to deal with more criticism following this announcement, too. On Twitter, responses to the mayor questioned how the age restrictions will be enforced, and of course, how the city will cover the cost. But many users celebrated the announcement; one asked when free public transit will become available to retirees, who frequently depend on cars to get around.
Hidalgo’s announcement comes after a series of protests at the end of last year over a fuel tax proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, which demonstrators objected to on the basis of overburdening lower-income families. In framing her free public transit rollout, Hidalgo specifically says the move is designed to “strengthen the purchasing power of families”–perhaps in an effort to prove a point that climate-progressive policies can also be financially beneficial to working people.