The city of Tórshavn, the capital of The Faroe Islands, is promoting a shift from private car use to public transport through economic incentives, i.e. by making public bus transport free for everyone.
Traditionally the only means of public transport on the Faroe Islands has been buses or ferries. The bus service in Torshavn was rarely used due to an infrequent service – a service that people were unwilling to pay for. People preferred to use their cars, which made for a heavily congested town center and a premium on parking spaces. The free public transportation has led to more people using buses instead of private cars and has led to the development of more frequent and better planned bus services. The free public transportation was piloted in 2009 and has continued and been further developed since then.

Implemented in

  • Europe and Central Asia
  • Faeroe Islands

Sectors of activity
Transport, Agricultural and Fishery, Education

Type of initiative
Financial Instruments & Investments

Type of lead actor
Government / public sector

Budget
3500000 US$

Start date
01/01/2008

Objectives

The project aims at reducing air pollution, fuel usage, noise and the emission of greenhouse gases as well as road maintenance needs and costs, and parking congestion in the city. The goal is also to enhance traffic safety, both by minimising the number of private cars in the city and by making the bus-drivers' work less stressful. The over-arching goal is to create an environment in which the children of the municipality consider it perfectly natural to take the bus, rather than being driven to and from school, sports practice, or other free time activities by their parents or friends. The target group is all citizens but especially children.

Activities

In 2008 the municipality of Tórshavn established free public bus transports for all. In 2010 the frequency of trips during daytime was increased to every 20 minutes. The following year, old buses were replaced with new, smaller models. In total 14 new busses of the type SOR were acquired. The busses can have 29 people sitting and 37 people standing in the bus as well as 2 baby carriage or 1 baby carriage and 1 wheelchair. There is in total space for 66 people in the busses. The busses are shorter than the old ones, which makes them better for city driving. The location of the buses is tracked using GPS, allowing passengers to view the real time location of their bus online, or via an SMS request.

The investment and the operation of the city bus system has been outsourced to private operators for a period of seven years, with an option for the City Council to extend the contract period for another two years. The City Council pays a fixed price per hour of effective operation of the buses. This price is based on the operator's investment and operating costs.

Impact and Results

Some key success factors for this project have been good route planning, with related fleet adaptation, and being to offer convenient customer focused services. Essential for the continuation of the concept is also the political backing in the city council.

Sustainability Impacts:
• Direct cost of journeys for the passenger has been reduced by 100%; increasing the number of journeys taken by bus (costs indirectly covered by taxes)
• Reduced road maintenance costs due to reduced traffic
• Less investment required to provide parking facilities
• Reduced air pollution and CO2 emissions
• Declined annual growth rate in private car sales (from 6.8% in 2008 to 0.5% in 2012)

Cost-effectiveness:
Even though no comprehensive analyses of the overall costs and benefits of the initiative have been made, it can be noted that multiple co-benefits (See above) have been achieved through this initiative.

Challenges, lessons learned and potential for development:
The users have been very satisfied with the service so far. Route planning has been easier with good statistics collected on how passengers use the buses. The future challenge is mainly how to optimise the routes.

Taxi drivers are concerned about tourists, especially visitors arriving by cruise ships, who have started using the buses instead of taxis. The city has 60 taxi drivers who service the city. The taxi drivers would like to limit the use of the free buses to the inhabitants of the city.

Next steps and how to get involved

Contact person for more information:
Boði Haraldson
Tórshavn Municipality, City Hall
bodi@torshavn.fo