Châtauroux Free Buses

A short and explicit addition to the transports of delight seems appropriate. In the Val de Loire region of France where bus travel is free for all in Châtauroux – this is the transport usage graph which proves that travel will increase but it seems unlikely (confirmed in the French Vox Pop) that that this will not include considerably reduced travel by car….

2001 was the year transport went free.



Do we need to look further?


  1. David Howdle -

    Not free though. Paid for from taxes presumably. A very good use of taxes in my view. I live in south west Scotland near Dumfries. The off peak return rail fare from Dumfries to Carlisle is paltry and the service is extremely well used. Coincidence?

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Indeed a beautiful part of the world which I pass through every 6 months or so on my way from Northumberland to Ireland via Cairnryan. Better transport links are vital for more rural communities. We need to grow public transport and it is an area where the return on subsidy seems to far exceed the outlay.

    2. Peter May -

      Paid for, as you say, by a slightly increased local tax on business on the grounds that free buses are actually good for business! (It’s a small town of c50,000 so I doubt distances are large). As Sean hints at we could make transport free and stop building all those roads.

  2. Andrew Dickie -

    Madam Thatcher must be spinning in her grave – the polar opposite (actually more like the difference between matter and anti-matter) of her destructive deregulation of the buses, which kicked off with the lunacy of – I think it was 4 or 5, but certainly several – rival companies vying for business in Darlington High Street, and has ended with virtually all the business captured by the Big 3 or 4 – Aviva, First, Stagecoach and one other I can’t recall – national behemoths with little contact with, or accountability to, local needs and concerns. But that was probably Thatcher’s aim, and let’s not ask about donations to Party funding. I fully endorse the points made above – always the way we should have gone.

    1. Andrew Dickie -

      Of course I meant “Arriva” not “Aviva”. That’s what happens when you live in Norwich, as I do.

      1. Charles Adams -

        With Arriva now owned by Deutsche Bahn we have the bizarre situation where ‘running the buses’ is a good investment for German citizens but apparently not for UK citizens. One of many such cases in the utility sector. Why are we so badly served by our politicians?

    2. Peter May -

      Absolutely right – almost all local buses are monopolies – with fares to match. And even now there was a recent act to prevent local authorities setting up any company to run buses – so the ones that do – see regularly win awards but the rest are forbidden from entering the fray. Of course, that’s the free market we are told…

      1. Charles Adams -

        Exactly the point. On most routes there is no competition, and consequently no mechanism to control prices. The market solution is get everyone into private cars but this ignores externalities – traffic jams, pollution, and car parks instead of more productive land use.

  3. Graham -

    Vital for rural areas, where cost of bus travel, even if it’s available is, I suspect, disproportionately high due to the longer distances. We used to live in Lochalsh. An 8 mile bus journey to the nearest “large town”, Kyle of Lochalsh is £5.50 single, £7.70 return. To Portree, an 1hr 20min journey is £27.70 return or £19.40 Advance. To Inverness same sort of cost. Who would travel by bus without a free pass?

  4. Allen Bell -

    This is an interesting story, and thanks to Peter to giving it some attention.
    But I think the wrong questions are being asked as there is an undercurrent that ‘look here, we have a solution, let’s impose it’, when the story should be about something else.
    Like the NHS supporters who don’t question why most of the developed world has universal health coverage without it, nobody is questioning why other French towns have not copied this, yet still insist on their behalf that it would be an excellent idea if they did.
    Back in 2001 Chateauroux was giving free travel to 47% of bus users, so the change was really a bung to the rich and those from out of the revenue-raising area ( out of towners ), admittedly paid for by the better off. Hand outs to better off people to leave their car at home is hardly progressivism. Back in 2001 bus use in Chateauroux was a long way below the small town average, and the fare box revenue was paltry. It looks like there were high costs of collecting the small amounts.
    Now bus travel is above the small town average but a long way below the national average for France, but then most people in large towns and cities. Is the result scaleable to large places? We don’t know but the big French towns don’t think so and it’s their gaffe.
    What this story should be about is devolved powers, and giving local authorities more tax raising powers to try new things. For the UK that could include getting rid of central control of car park pricing, and planning. Even, letting LAs buy land without planning permits, then resell them with permission and keep the funds raised. LAs from Durham to London already have congestion charges and are free to expand or amend them to achieve environmental benefits as local electors wish.

  5. Peter May -

    It’s progressive for the environment!
    Have you a link for the national average for bus travel in France – indeed the national average for the UK come to that?
    And of course the small towns do have to tax to get free bus travel so in that sense it might be about devolution but if it was UBS and the policy of the currency issuer, no taxation would be required of course. What might be a shade more concerning is that on the basis of these (Châtauroux) figures I doubt if the UK bus industry has enough spare capacity in either vehicles or staff. I suspect free travel would at least initially need to be decidedly local.

  6. Graham -

    Allen’s proposal doesn’t seem to be a solution to the multiple problems of UK transport. But Peter’s point about the environment is crucial. We still haven’t got real about the impending catastrophe that anthropogenic climate change is going to bring about, with the poor of the world most severely affected.

    “Transport accounts for around a quarter of UK greenhouse gas emissions and affects air quality” ( There is convincing evidence that these emissions cause premature death and illness on a massive scale.

    In my view, it is too big an issue to be left to LA’s and needs government intervention to clean up transport and develop less polluting alternatives, that also lead to less congestion and road traffic accidents.

    My favoured option, apart from free public transport, is massive investment in renewable technologies, such as wave and tidal (currently being developed in Scotland) to produce a hydrogen economy (which also needs development investment). Aberdeen City already run hydrogen powered buses.

    Electric vehicles are not emission free, it merely shoves the emissions back up the pipeline, unless powered by renewables, and the issue of batteries and the mining of rare minerals to produce them cause issues of pollution, environment degradation and disposal.

    Unfortunately, any putative UK government for the foreseeable future is uninterested in these kinds of solutions.

    1. Peter May -

      Agree with this very much.
      Quite why it takes an as yet supposedly inconclusive study to decide whether or not to construct the Swansea barrage when the Bristol Channel has the second or is it third? highest tidal range in the world has always been a mystery.
      And as you say, construction of electric vehicles is the problem – that’s why electrification of the railways is a much safer win.
      Aberdeen’s hydrogen buses are innovative but it must be too early to tell as there seem to be no suggestions as to whether they should be rolled out elsewhere.

  7. Peter Dawe -

    Travel is BAD for the environment. Free increases the number of journeys with margin utility.
    Travel can be bad for community, especially dormitory towns, don’t get me on holiday homes, that generate long distance weekend travel!

    1. Graham -

      “Free” has to be one of a suite of initiatives to get people out of their cars and into buses, trams, trains or whatever. If you fill a coach with 100 people who would normally make the same journey in, perhaps, 50 or more cars then that’s an improvement. Something similar has to be done about hgv transport.

    2. Peter May -

      Of couse travel is bad.
      But if people need to travel for work then they either travel or don’t work. Or don’t have to work at all. But we are where we are. We just need to change quickly. Free local travel would be a quick, basic win with further changes afterwards..

  8. Charles Adams -

    Travel does not have to be bad. We have the technology for sustainable travel. However, I do think that the community issue is important and too often overlooked in the name of progress.

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