Don't forget to check out a survey on FFPT in Luxembourg, here
September 1st marks the sixth month anniversary of fare free public transit (FFPT) in Luxembourg. Compared to the fuss and PR-action that accompanied its introduction, there hasn't been much fanfare about this now. This happens probably for good reason: back in March, no one would have predicted that COVID-19 would have substantially quieted mobility in general, and public transit in particular, in the Grand Duchy.
COVID-19 was a wrench in the plans. Just days after FFPT in Luxembourg began, the lockdown kicked in and suddenly there were too many buses on the road and trains on the tracks. Luxembourg public transit service was thus set on quasi perma-Sunday schedule, which has in fact since been relaxed. However, summer vacation is also the time when railroads are worked on, so service is rarely smooth during this time.
The Rentrée will surely add further unpredictability as some workforces continue to stay at home. The geography of comfort and safety in travel will also likely change, as some routes will be empty while others— most likely the cross-border routes – will be overcrowded (and unsafe).
While other cities such as Paris or Brussels took the chance prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown policies to improvise with pop-up bike lanes and green street layouts soon to be introduced, the government of the Capital City was quoted in the media that there “wouldn’t be sufficient space available” to do so. Further questions?
In the meantime, the central government is promoting Luxembourg's European transport leadership in terms of per-capita investment in railway infrastructure. While these temporary numbers are actually correct, this is not an overly strong argument, given decades of neglect and the fact that systemwide impact is still lacking. Further, the government still seems to be afraid of SUV-voters, so one does little to domesticate excessive car travel and related mobility habits, for example around schools. These observations actually don’t fit with Luxembourg’s self-assigned role as a forerunner that the country’s officials claim.
In a fast-growing urban environment, the most striking issue is the absence of any sort of planning that would convincingly aim to ‘integrate’ urban development and transport as a server, not master. The yet unquestioned practice of development that prioritizes growth by automobility can be best studied in the case of large-scale developments, most visibly those projects that were set up in recent times (Belval, Cloche d'Or), but effectively follow the 1960s blueprint of Plateau Kirchberg. While they are connected by the tram, now or in the near (and not so near) future, they ways are paved with 6 to 8 lane motorways still today, and provide on-site parking in the thousands. These serve a consumer and labour that are, for various reasons, car-oriented.
How Luxembourg’s developments are temporally out of step with modes of pedestrian and cycling transport is illustrated by two stories:
1) The recent construction of a foot and cycle bridge over the highways connecting Cloche d'Or to Hesperange. The speed of construction favoured office buildings, condominiums and road traffic. While better late than never, the danger that pedestrians and cyclists faced was only recognized as an after-thought. It also looks good.
2) Large scale developments are developer led, private property led, where the interest is nothing more private profit. Check out Flavio Becca's views on Cloche d'Or development on 'his terrain' . Here, too, is a random real estate developer’s view of Luxembourg (it hits all the large-scale developments and is full of unverified 'facts')
Six months later, we are also still being contacted for interviews, for PhD supervision. For us, it has been interesting observing the various levels of background research that interviewers do, or the expectations that researchers have on learning outcomes of this phenomenon. Of them all, we still like the ones from Der Tagesspiegel and Tom Scott the best. It has also been a lesson in how research fame works: popular subjects, big journals, circulate faster and further.